nearnia

Copyright © 2011 Maeryn Lamonte – All Rights Reserved. 

The Line Which Was In The Wardrobe

It was one of those miserable, rainy days and the initial excitement of coming to live in such a large and mysterious house as this was beginning to wear thin. Lucas stared at the window, at the fat drops of rain which traced meandering paths down the glass, and sighed. He missed his home, and he missed his mother.

It was just this mood which had persuaded Lucas’s three older brothers to abandon him and seek out their own fun. He wasn’t good company they had told him, but that was the problem. No-one here was.

They had arrived two weeks earlier, evacuated from London to be safe from the bombing. They had been collected form the station Mrs Mcready, the housekeeper, who was to care for them. By this she understood her duties to comprise of cooking their meals and washing their clothes. Beyond that she was far too busy to spend time with them. They had also been introduced to the old professor who owned the house, but they were warned to keep to themselves and not to disturb the old man as he preferred his own company.

No-one would spend time with them and Lucas missed that. He came away from the window and walked listlessly down the corridor. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of an old wardrobe through a partly opened door. Lucas had seen it before, and thought it looked out of place, big and ugly as it was.

Drawn by curiosity and seeking to escape his mood, he slipped into the room and pulled open the door to the wardrobe. It was filled with old fur coats and smelled strongly of mothballs. The fur was soft and somehow reminded him of his mother, so he stepped in, embracing one of the old coats for comfort.

He wasn’t paying attention, so when the door closed on him, plunging him into deep darkness, he panicked, thrashing around wildly with no idea which way led out. As he struggled through one pile of coats to the next, his flailing hand came across a length of cord, about chest height to him and pulled taut. Taking hold of it as though it were a talisman to ward off his fear, he chose a direction and followed it.

By chance he headed deeper into the wardrobe. If he hadn’t, he would have found his way back into the small room, and we should not have the story which unfolds, even now, before us. The wardrobe had no back to it, you see. After a few steps, it led to a space where there were no more furs. Round a corner, the darkness lessened, and round a second corner, still following the length of twine, Lucas found his way out into a hidden cloister, which as every young boy knows is an enclosed garden with covered walkways surrounding it on all sides.

It was a marvellous discovery, which he felt compelled to share with his brothers, but just as he was about to turn and leave, he realised he was not alone. On the other side of the garden, sitting in a richly appointed room that opened out onto the garden, was a richly dressed lady wearing long skirts of white taffeta and lace, and in her gloved hands a parasol. She noticed him and seemed suddenly nervous.

Lucas’s curiosity was piqued. Mrs Macready had told them no-one lived in the house apart from her and the old professor, and yet here was someone totally unexpected. He made his way cautiously around the walkway towards her, ignoring her growing agitation. There was something familiar about her that he couldn’t quite…

“Professor?” he asked, realisation dawning.

Puffy sleeves sagged as her shoulders slumped. She sighed and spoke in the professor’s voice.

“Oh dear.”

-oOo-

“It is you, isn’t it Professor?”

“Yes, dear boy, yes it is. Only, I wonder… would you mind dreadfully? It’s just that when I’m dressed like this, I prefer to be called Mrs Tumnus.”

“That’s a funny name.” Lucas couldn’t help laughing, though it seemed evident that the old man was serious.

“Yes, yes, I suppose it is. I used to have a doll called Mrs Tumnus, so I took her name to honour her memory, sort of thing.”

“You.. erm…” Lucas wasn’t sure how to ask the question without seeming impertinent. In the end he asked it anyway. “You are a man, aren’t you professor?”

I suppose I am, only…” A wistful look settled on the professor’s lined face. “On the outside I am a man, there’s no question there, but I’ve always felt that on the inside I was someone else.

“Do you know that when I was little – younger than you are now – I used to play with my sister. We’d play dress up and have tea parties for all her dolls and animals. It used to be such fun. Then one day, Father told me I was to stop. Little boys didn’t wear dresses or play with dolls.

“It was a sad day for me, and I remember running away and crying. I can’t even remember why I cried in particular. I mean, I was a little boy and I knew that playing with my sister the way I did wasn’t the sort of thing other boys my age liked to do. I didn’t want to, but I accepted that I needed to grow up and become a man.

“The thing is, I didn’t want to. My sister knew this and she let me keep one of her dollies. She let me choose and I picked out a rag doll with a pretty white dress, not so different from this one. As I said earlier, I called her Mrs Tumnus and, when she wasn’t in bed with me while I was sleeping, I kept her at the back of my sock drawer.

“I suppose Mother knew, I mean how could she not? The maid who put my clothes away would have seen her and told Mother, but she kept my secret. It wasn’t until some years later, when Father came into my room to wake me for something or other, that he saw me sleeping with Mrs Tumnus. He was quite furious and, whatever else he had planned to do with me that day, he first set about building a fire and he made me throw my poor dolly into the flames.”

“That’s awful. How could he be so mean?” It was strange the way he felt sitting here. I mean to see a man wearing a dress was odd enough, but to sit here chatting away, watching the rain fall on the central garden, seemed the most natural thing in the world. What was most strange was how normal this all felt, but then Lucas had always been more curious than cautious about anything unusual.

“Oh, you mustn’t judge him too harshly. He was just doing what he thought was best.”

“So is that why you dress up now? Because of Mrs Tumnus?”

“No, that would be silly. I mean fancy putting on a dress just because of a toy. No, it’s because of the way I feel inside. The happiest memories I have of my childhood were the ones when Susan – that’s my sister – and I would dress up in her prettiest dresses and play with her toys.

“Father used to make me go and play with the boys who lived next door, but they always used to play at football or sword fighting or some such. It was always rough, and I would be hurt more often than not. They used to call me a sissy because I used to cry a lot.”

“So when did you start dressing up like this?”

The professor was beginning to relax again. Inquisitiveness was so much more agreeable than the name calling he’d expected. Boys tended to be cruel with anyone and anything they didn’t understand, but not the young man.

“Would you like some tea… er… it’s er…”

“Lucas sir. I mean ma’am, I mean… er…”

The professor allowed himself a smile. “Mrs Tumnus or ma’am would be perfectly acceptable, Lucas, but if you feel uncomfortable using those, I suppose I wouldn’t mind professor or sir. Now, tea. It’s about time for elevensies, and I think I have some Turkish delight we could share. Would you like that?”

Lucas nodded his head enthusiastically. He’d tried Turkish delight before and found it most agreeable.

The professor – Lucas still found it too odd calling him Mrs Tumnus – walked across to the fireplace, where he pulled on a tassled cord, then back again. The way he moved was very much more like Mrs Macready or his mum than a man; he moved in a graceful gliding motion rather than walking, and he took some care to arrange his voluminous skirts about him as he sat.

“I’ll answer your question in a minute, Lucas, it’s just that… ah there she is.”

Mrs Macready had appeared through the same doorway that Lucas had used. Come to think of it, it seemed to be the only way into the sheltered garden. There were other doors off from the cloister, but they led to small rooms like the one they were in now, and had no doors leading off from them. The housekeeper carried a tray in front of her, challenging Lucas’s imagination as to how she had negotiated the fur coats and the bends in the dark wardrobe.

“Ah, Mrs Macready,” the professor smiled. “As you can see, I have a surprise visitor. I wonder if you’d be so kind as to bring an extra cup, and perhaps some of that Turkish delight, if we have any left that is.”

Mrs Macready gave Lucas a hard stare and harrumphed as she swept away in response to the professor’s request.

“Don’t mind her, Lucas,” the professor leant over to murmur in his ear. “She may seem a bit fierce, but underneath she has a heart of gold. I don’t think she approves of this particular manner I have of passing the time, and I rather think the reason she told you and your brothers to leave me alone was because she didn’t want me contaminating the purity of your thoughts with my base behaviour. Sometimes I wonder if she sees me as something of a witch.”

“I think she was rather more upset with me, prof… Mrs Tumnus.”

“I should think so. I have done nothing wrong, keeping to myself and the seclusion of this place. You, on the other hand, exercising the keenness of your sharp mind and your insatiable curiosity, investigated your way through a wardrobe full of fur coats into my own private little world.”

The professor poured Lucas a cup of tea and distracted him with a few nonsense facts until his housekeeper returned with a second tray, carrying the second cup and the box of promised delights. Only once she had withdrawn for the second time, did the professor return to the earlier conversation.

“I’ve been dressing like this for a great many years now. At first, I tried to keep it a secret, but that’s a nonsense in a house full of servants. The first ones who found out were scornful and unkind, and I had to send them away. Mrs Macready, God bless her, was more understanding, after dealing with the lack of respect shown by the earlier maids, and warned them off telling on pain of receiving poor references, she suggested this place as a retreat for my eccentric behaviour. And so it has been for many years. She helps me dress in the morning – I mean you can understand that putting on a dress like this is not something one can do for one’s self with any ease – then she leaves me to my own ends for the morning. I read a little, look after the garden when it isn’t raining, write a little – all genteel, lonely pursuits – until around eleven, when she brings me some refreshments, then she leaves me again until sometime after noon when she comes and helps me to undress. I spend the afternoon and evening as the professor and go to bed looking forward to being Mrs Tumnus again in the morning.”

“But where did you find the clothes? I mean, I can’t imagine you going into a women’s clothes shop for a fitting.”

The professor bowed his head, trying to hide some of the shame.

“Most of the dresses I have that fit me used to belong to my mother or my sister, although in recent years I’ve been wearing my mother’s more. Mother was a great hoarder and wouldn’t throw anything away, including any clothes my sister and I outgrew. I think there are still some chests in the attic with some of Susan’s and my clothes from when we were very small. This is one of Mother’s; she always had such elegant tastes.”

“Doesn’t she mind you wearing her clothes?”

“Oh dear. I’m sorry, I was sure you knew. My parents and sister died over thirty years ago during an influenza epidemic. I caught it too, but for some reason I was spared and they were taken.”

A tear squeezed out of the professors eye, prompting Lucas to take hold of his gloved hand.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know. That must have been awful for you.”

“It was a long time ago; a year or two after I finished my Bachelor’s. It took the longest time to see them buried, especially given the number of other people who died. There isn’t a family in the village who didn’t lose at least someone, though I think ours – mine now, I suppose – was the worst hit.

“Anyway, some months after the epidemic, I found myself rattling around by myself in this house. With the inheritance I had money enough to go back to university and continue my studies, and the old house reminded me so much of the people I’d lost. I hired Mrs Macready to look after the house and I went away.”

“But that means you wouldn’t have the clothes to wear, doesn’t it?”

The professor smiled. “I knew you were sharp. You’re right of course. The thing is I missed my family dreadfully, Susan most of all. I visited the house a few times a year to wander around the place and remember. It was always so strange, everything shrouded in dust covers and silent, as though the house itself were in mourning.

“That first visit, I found myself in Susan’s bedroom. We’d always looked more alike than brother and sister should, and I missed her so much, I suppose I thought if I put on one of her dresses and looked in the mirror it would be a little like having her back, or maybe it was the memory of playing together and pretending to be sisters. Anyway, before I knew it I was wearing her favourite dress, and it felt wonderful. As though I’d been holding myself in some unnatural pose – you know, back straight, stomach in, chest out; like in the army – and all of a sudden I realised I didn’t need to. I felt so relaxed and… right. I smiled for the first time in months, and decided that, since I wouldn’t be hurting anyone else, why the Dickens shouldn’t I?

“That first time, I packed enough of my sister’s things to fill out my suitcase and headed back to university. On subsequent visits, I took more and more things, until they became difficult to hide in my small lodgings.

“It was some years later, after I had completed my doctorate – in English, I should say – that I was found out. A fellow professor came visiting unexpectedly while I was indulging. I tried hiding in the hope that he would go away, but he knew where I hid my spare key and came in to wait. I had nowhere to hide, and he had no option but to report me to the dean.

“They had no idea how to deal with my particular situation. Such things were completely unheard of you understand. Oh, I suppose there were other people like me, you did hear scandalous stories from high society and such, but to have a university professor doing such things…

“In the end, they decided to hush things up. It would have been as bad for the university’s reputation as it was for mine, so they made up some story about my having a relapse with my health, and I packed off back here with my tail between my legs.

“I have a good enough income to maintain this place and the few servants you’ve seen, and I still write a little. Because of my reported health problems I was never drafted for the first war, and now, of course, I’m too old. I keep to myself and the villagers keep away. Mrs Macready looks after me and suffers my idiosyncrasies, and helps me keep them hidden from the outside world.

“I still have to be the professor for the most part, but the mornings I spend in here, in my own little magical kingdom, are the times when I feel truly alive. I don’t suppose the world is ready for people such as myself just yet, but neither am I strong enough to be the professor all the time. When you know there’s a better way to live, it becomes harder to go back to the paucity of a life when you can only be a small part of who you are, keeping the real you hidden beneath tweed and a cantankerous exterior.

“Mrs Tumnus is an essential part of my life now, and even though she doesn’t approve, I do believe Mrs Macready understands that. I only wish it weren’t such a lonely existence.”

Lucas took the old man’s gloved hand again. “It doesn’t have to be professor, I mean Mrs Tumnus. I could visit you like I did today.”

The professor smiled and cupped Lucas’s cheek. “You are such a kind hearted child,” he said. “Do you know, I think I should enjoy your visits very much.”

Lucas looked away, his face reddening.

“I-I should be going now profess… er Ma’am. I’ve been gone a long while and I think my brothers will be looking for me.”

“Well, thank you so very much for visiting today Lucas, and thank you for listening too. So many boys your age would have run away calling me names, but you have been very understanding.

“I don’t know what time you wake in the morning, but Mrs Macready usually helps me to dress around seven o’clock. You would be most welcome, any time after that.”

Lucas stood and put on his best smile. “I’d like that Mrs Tumnus, if you’re sure you don’t mind being disturbed.”

“Not at all dear boy. I haven’t enjoyed myself so much in many years. I do have one request though.”

“Don’t tell my brothers, or anyone else. Don’t worry Mrs… er Ma’am, I won’t say anything to anyone. This can be our little secret together.”

The old man smiled again. There was no escaping that was what he looked like. He was slim, and the dress fit him well, but there was something about his face that gave him away. It made him look a little silly in all the froth and frills of his clothing, and yet there was something about him, a serene quality that always seemed to be missing whenever Lucas and his brothers crossed paths with him dressed as the professor. It was a look that Lucas realised was missing from other men he had met, as though they knew something was missing from their lives, or there was some inward struggle that never quite ended. The thought frightened Lucas and he ran back round the cloister, through the entrance and following the length of twine back to the wardrobe.

He stood, surrounded by furs, breathing heavily and tasting moth balls on the stuffy air. As before, the coats reminded him of his mother, so many miles away, and he held one close against his cheek, enjoying the cool softness for a while as his racing pulse settled back to normal.

He listened for a moment, but there were no sounds from the other side of the wardrobe. The door gave with a quiet click when he pushed on it, allowing him to slip out unnoticed. All sorts of strange thoughts flew around like so many songbirds in the garden of his mind, and he ran off to find his brothers before one of them jumped up and frightened him again.

-oOo-

Princess Cas Begins

Lucas didn’t sleep well that night, his mind too filled with new and disturbing thoughts. The rain continued to rattle against the windows as he lay wide eyed through the cold, quiet hours of the morning. He was up as dawn’s first light began to broach the horizon, climbing into his clothes and sneaking out of the room he shared with one of his brothers.

He felt his way down dark corridors until he reached the room with the wardrobe. The familiar feel of the furs told him he was in the right place, and the length of cord took him the rest of the way. The small garden glowed dimly as the morning sun’s first rays gently suffused everything. The professor and Mrs Macready were already there, and Lucas watched, fascinated, from the shadowy entrance as the latter laced the former into a stiff whalebone girdle.

He stayed hidden, entranced by the revelation of the unknown, as Mrs Macready completed dressing her employer, finishing off with a wig and a hat, and just a touch of makeup.

With a final sniff of disapproval, she stepped away and started walking briskly back towards the doorway where Lucas was hiding. At the last moment, the young boy made a dash for the corner on the opposite side of the garden, keeping as low as he could and hunkering down out of site.

Mrs Macready stopped at the doorway and half turned towards him.

“As if it’s not bad enough that you’re here at all. You should be ashamed, lurking in the shadows and watching a lady dress.”

Lucas cringed, half expecting to be towed away by his ear, but Mrs Macready’s footsteps continued again, up the corridor to the secret entrance and back into the house.

When all was silent, and his racing heart and breathing had returned to normal, Lucas dared to stand up and walk round to where the professor was sitting, reading a book. The old man looked up as the boy approached and offered him a welcoming smile.

“Well aren’t you up early this morning?”

Lucas was reluctant to approach, still smarting from Mrs Macready’s scolding. Instead he hung back at the corner of the covered walkway, swinging on the pillar and staring at the ground.

“Whatever’s the matter Lucas?” The professor softened his voice until it sounded almost like a lady’s. It was as friendly and welcoming as his smile, and carried not the slightest trace of anger.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to peep. It’s just that you said to come early, and when I arrived, you were still getting dressed, so I waited for you to finish. I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong.” The words came out in a rush, tumbling over each other and growing in misery as the confession progressed.

“My dear child.” The professor put down his book and walked over – a little stiffly it must be said, but that was probably more to do with the corset than anything else. He settled down into a crouch and drew the young boy into a gentle embrace. “It’s alright, I’m not angry or upset. I know you wouldn’t do such a thing on purpose, and you’re right, I did tell you to come early. I just never expected you to be up at this hour.

“Come on Lucas, dry your eyes. There’s nothing to cry about. Come and sit with me and talk for a while. You know, I’m getting decidedly tired of all this rain. I would rather be in the garden tending to my flowers, but good company is a good substitute, and so much more agreeable than reading. Do you read?”

And so Lucas was drawn into the magical world of Mrs Tumnus for another morning. They spoke of the books they had read and enjoyed, Lucas surprising his peculiar hostess with the number and variety he already knew. After a while, Mrs Macready appeared with refreshments for them both, and a particularly disagreeable look for Lucas, which chased him into the shame-filled recesses of his mind once more.

Mrs Tumnus drew him out of his shell again by suggesting a game, and they passed the rest of the morning playing ludo and draughts. As time wore on, Lucas became progressively more agitated. The professor was wise enough to realise that it would be best if to wait for the boy to speak rather than press the matter. In any case, he didn’t have long to wait. They were packing up the games when he finally found the courage to say what was on his mind.

“Mrs Tumnus?”

“Yes Lucas.”

“I was wondering…”

The professor waited. He had an idea what this was about, but he didn’t want to invent troubles for the day, so he waited and hoped he was wrong.

“I was wondering if you had any clothes I could wear. You know, little girls clothes?”

The professor closed his eyes and took a deep breath. This was just what he’d been afraid of. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, it’s just that you look so pretty, and I was wondering what it would be like to be pretty as well.”

“You know Mrs Macready would think me the wickedest of witches if I were to dress you up too. She thinks it’s bad enough that I do this to myself.”

“But it’s not you doing it, is it? I’m the one who’s asking.”

“Would you have asked if you hadn’t seen me dressed this way first?”

“I suppose not. I never thought about men, and boys, wearing dresses before I saw you, but now that I have seen you, and the way you are when you’re Mrs Tumnus, I’ve been having these feelings.”

“What sort of feelings?”

“Well, like I want to be the same way. I like sitting with you and chatting, and playing games and things, it’s not like running around and climbing trees, which is all my brothers want to do. It’s fun and makes me feel good inside, but when I do it like this, it’s like standing in the doorway of a room, not really going all the way in.”

“I don’t know, Lucas. It’s one thing to have you here sharing this time with me, but it’s another thing entirely for me to encourage you to do the same as I do. I don’t do this for fun you know, but more as a way of dealing with my own feelings. Most people would have a problem seeing me like this. Mrs Macready doesn’t think it’s right, but she makes allowances for it because she sees it is something I feel the need to do, and it makes me more agreeable in the afternoon if I’ve been able to spend a morning like this.

“I wouldn’t wish the way I am on anyone. Having to hide this part of me away, knowing that people would laugh or shout at me if they could see me like this.”

“I didn’t laugh or shout at you, Mrs Tumnus.”

“I know you didn’t, Lucas, and that’s because you are a very special boy. You don’t copy the way other people think or act.”

“Maybe I’m special because I want to be like you.”

“Do you really think that?”

“I don’t know. I think I would like it, but I’m not going to know unless you let me try it.”

The professor’s face took on an expression of deep thought as he considered matters.

“You know, scientists and philosophers have debated for many years whether or not the way we are is in our nature or the way we are nurtured.”

“What do you mean professor? Oops, sorry, I mean Mrs Tumnus.”

The professor smiled, not only at the unintentional slip and its correction, but as a way of showing that he didn’t mind.

“Well imagine a lion. You know how ferocious they are don’t you?”

Lucas nodded his head.

“Imagine if you were to take a young lion cub and put him with a ewe. If she were to raise him as her own, would the lion grow up to think he was a lamb because of the way the ewe treated him, or would his lion nature get the better of him.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“Well I’ve heard of cats and even ducks being raised by dogs and thinking they are dogs themselves, so I wonder what it is that makes us what we are. If I forbid you to wear girl’s clothing, would you grow up to be a normal man? If I were to allow it, would you grow up to be like me?”

“I think now that I know there are people like you, I’d always wonder what it would be like to wear a pretty dress and pretend to be a girl. I would wonder if it would really be pretending at all. On the inside I mean.

“I hoped you’d like the idea. You know, the two of us being girls together? I think it would be alright here. I mean I wouldn’t want my brothers to find out, because they’d make fun of me, but with you it would be alright because you’d see me the same way I see you.”

“What if I were to say no?”

“Then I’d be really sad, and I probably wouldn’t come to visit you anymore.”

The professor felt his defences crumbling. Even though this was only the second time Lucas had come to visit, he couldn’t imagine himself going back to the way things were before. Life was to be shared, and being shut away by himself every morning was sad in a way that he was only now beginning to realise. He didn’t want the visits to stop, and there was something in him – something he couldn’t decide if it was wrong or not – that liked the idea of spending his mornings with a little girl just like he was.

If he were to do this to satisfy a perverse pleasure of his own it would be wrong, but if, as Lucas insisted, the boy himself wanted to make the change, perhaps it wasn’t so wrong. He looked down into two pleading, hopeful eyes and felt the last of his resolve melt away.

“Alright. Come back tomorrow after Mrs Macready has gone, and I’ll see what I can do.”

“Really? You really mean it?” Lucas jumped at the professor and wrapped his arms as far around the old man’s waist as he could manage, surprised to be able to reach all the way, and a little disconcerted by the creaking.

He stepped back, looking warily at the professor’s artificially narrowed waist.

“Does it hurt to wear that?”

The professor laughed. “It’s a little uncomfortable, but you get used to it. It gives me better posture and makes me look more like a… a lady, so it’s all worthwhile in the end.”

“Will I have to wear one?”

“I don’t think it would be appropriate for a young… er… girl like yourself to have to strap yourself into one of these.”

“I’m glad. I don’t think I would like it very much.”

Maybe this would be just a bit of fun and the young boy would find interest elsewhere after a day or two in dresses. Maybe this would be for the best after all.

“Tomorrow morning then Lucas, at about half past seven. You’d better run along for now before Mrs Macready comes to help me out of my lace prison.”

“OK, pr… I mean Mrs Tumnus. I’ll see you tomorrow.” And with that Lucas dashed off, disappearing into the dark corridor.

The rest of the day passed so slowly Lucas began to wonder if it would ever end. He joined his brothers doing a jigsaw in the living room, but couldn’t concentrate enough to contribute anything of use. He did see the professor at one point in the afternoon, but the old man seemed preoccupied with something and didn’t stop to acknowledge them.

Mrs Macready finally called for them all to get ready for bed, and for once, Lucas was not among the dissenters. He was eager for the next day’s adventures and only tiredness from the previous night’s tossing and turning overcame his excitement and allowed his to sleep.

As before, he woke early – before the sun had risen and before there were any signs of stirring about the house. He grabbed his clothes and hurried off to get dressed, away from where his activities might disturb his brothers. It was cold, but the rain had stopped and the predawn light promised a clear day. Perhaps Mrs Tumnus would show him the garden today. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine the two of them, the lady and the little girl, walking among the roses and chrysanthemums , smelling the delicate perfumes of each different flower, but he had no experience to help him understand what it would be like and had to settle for the delighted sense of anticipation that filled him.

He found an old grandfather clock in the hall, not far from the room with the wardrobe, and settled down to wait, watching the hands crawl slowly across the dial.

Anticipation can only sustain you so long, and so it was that Lucas woke a second time, cold and stiff, to the sound of the clock sounding out the Westminster chimes and following them with seven long drawn out bongs. He stood to stretch out the aches, and to warm himself up he walked back and forth down the corridor between the wardrobe room and the clock. It was just gone ten past when he caught a glimpse of Mrs Macready stepping out into the corridor and back towards the kitchen. If she saw him at all, she didn’t let on.

Lucas’s heart was suddenly fluttering in his chest like a frightened bird. He could wait no longer and sneaked through the wardrobe into the hidden garden and the secrets it held.

“You’re a little early,” said Mrs Tumnus as Lucas made his way round to greet her.

“I couldn’t wait. I saw Mrs Macready leave, so I came straight away. Did you find anything for me to wear?” Impatient eagerness danced in the young lad’s eyes like puppies allowed out of the house for the first time.

Mrs Tumnus stood, smiling at the boy’s delight and pushed away the sadness and uncertainty that the professor felt lurking in the shadows of his mind. He led Lucas into the room behind the walkway where an array of white frilly lace had been laid out on the sofa.

“These were my sister’s when she was about your age. They’re not the height of modern fashion, but then there’s little to recommend current trends in today’s hard times.

“I shall leave you to dress in the underwear by yourself, but start with the stockings. They’re a little like socks and will come to just above your knees. Then put on the bloomers,” he held up a pair of what looked like loose frilly trousers, gathered into frills at the bottom of the legs – which looked like they would come to just below Lucas’s knees – and tied off with a drawstring at the waist. “Then put on the petticoat and lastly the camisole. You’ll find it a little more comfortable if you tie off the drawstrings with bows behind you. When you’re done, call me and we’ll see about the dress.”

Lucas did as he was told, shivering more with excitement than the early morning chill as he slid the soft white cotton over his skin. Tying off the unfamiliar garments was a little awkward, but he thought he managed it quite well. With everything in place, he called to the professor, who came in and looked him over.

“Alright, we need to tighten the drawstrings at the bottom of your bloomers; that’ll help to keep your stockings up. The rest of it, you’ve done really well. Alright, ready for the dress?”

Lucas was quivering uncontrollably. The look and feel of the underwear so far was making him light headed and he took in short gasping breaths. The professor held the dress over his head and he raised his arms in eagerness to complete his transformation.

The dress was loose in the bodice with loose sleeves, gathered to ruffles at the wrists. Over the top of this went a white, sleeveless smock apron with a ruffled hem that came to just above the hem of his dress. Shiny black shoes were buckled onto his feet and, as a finishing touch, a white mop cap with a generous frills around the edge was pulled onto his head hiding his short hair.

Lucas stood in front of the mirror and spun and jumped with delight. He almost forgot to breath, so enamoured was he with his new appearance.

“Oh, Mrs Tumnus, aren’t I the most beautiful girl in all the world?”

“You are indeed very beautiful, my sweet child, and a beautiful girl such as you deserves a beautiful name. I wonder if you might like Cassiopeia?”

“Cass-a-loop-ula?”

“No dear,” the professor chuckled, “Cassiopeia. Or we could call you Princess Cas for short, because, dressed as you are, there is no doubt in my mind that you are indeed a beautiful princess, and one to put your namesake to shame.”

“What’s a namesake?”

“It’s someone after whom you’re named.”

“So who was Princess Khazi-poop-ia?”

“Now you’re doing it deliberately,” the professor laughed, Lucas joining in unashamedly. “According to ancient Greek mythology, Cassiopeia was the Queen of Ethiopia and she was supposed to have angered Poseidon, the god of the sea, by boasting that she and her daughter, Andromeda, were more beautiful than the Nereids, the daughters of another sea god.

“In punishment, Poseidon sent a monster to destroy the country. Cassiopeia and her husband, Cepheus, tried to appease the monster by chaining their daughter to a rock as a sacrifice. She was rescued by Perseus, and as punishment, Poseidon placed Cassiopeia in the heavens and chained her to a chair where she is to this day.”

“Do you think that God is angry with me for dressing like this?” Lucas’s expression lost its delight and became quite worried.

“Do you know, I very much doubt it. If God is going to be angry with anyone, it would be with me for leading you astray and enabling you to do this.”

“But it was me who asked. I don’t want you to get into trouble Mrs Tumnus.”

“And I really don’t think I will my little princess. You see, when you asked to do this yesterday, I was worried that I might be encouraging you to do something wrong, that I wanted to fulfil my own selfish desires in turning you into someone like me. That’s why I didn’t want to do it. But as you became more insistent, I saw that you were already like me, and helping you to do this was kinder than refusing.

“I don’t know if what I’m doing is good or bad, but I do know how hard it is to bottle up the feelings I’ve had when I couldn’t be Mrs Tumnus, and it seems far more wrong to force that on you.

“Now, enough nonsense. Would you like to see my flowers?”

Lucas’s smile was all the invitation the old man needed and so, hand in hand, they stepped out into the central garden where Mrs Tumnus introduced her little friend to all the delights she had worked so hard to cultivate there.

-Fin for now-