Dear Mr Smith,
What a house this is.
I feel you shall become swiftly bored of me indeed if every letter I send you is one replete with my thanks, but I must, alas, thank you once more: I have spent this week exploring Mnemosyne’s Rest over and over, and still I feel I scarcely know her, for she seems to go on very nearly forever. You know, today, this morning, actually, I stepped out into the yard fixed for a walk into the village, for it is a very pleasant day, exceedingly warm and not at all windy, and I thought to step about the house on all sides.
I thought, you know, that I should count all the rooms I knew of and where they were, and count out my steps – you might think this to be a very queer thing for a young man to do, but I used to do it when I was a young man still learning his proportions, particularly when I was thinking about the architecture of some complex building or other. So, with my hands upon my hips, I counted out my steps along the eastern wall – I counted out the salon, and the reading room beside it, the hall, the coat room, the scullery— and, you know, Mr Smith, it seemed like I had such a lot of wall yet to fill up, and I knew not what to fill it with. When I stepped along the north wall, it was quite the opposite – moving along my boundary, counting out my steps, I felt as though I must be losing my count or exaggerating my steps, for it seemed impossible that the rooms on the ground floor or any of the others should fit along its length, so great and lofty as they seem in my estimation, and yet—
For all the rooms as I was counting them to fit along the northside of the house, the house would have to be nearly twice as long, and for them to fit along the east side, it should be half as much. Evidently, I am losing track of my numbers, or falling prey to some optical illusion – a shame indeed, for a supposed artist!
In any case, after I penned to you my last letter, and left the paper to dry, I stood to explore. The servants – and I did presume them to be numerous, or at least more than one in their number, for their note had said us – had placed my travelling trunk at the base of my bed, on top of the ottoman, and for the time being I left it there.
I had become almost dizzy climbing the stairs to the third floor, for the flight of stairs is really quite narrowly made, although the bannisters are exquisitely lacquered and so delightfully smooth under one’s palm – I feel I shall become very hale and fit, climbing and descending these stairs every day. I noticed on the third floor that the staircase went up another floor, but I did not immediately explore this further: instead, I stepped into the master bath…
What luxury is in this house, Mr Smith. Have you lived here before, I wonder, perhaps in your youth? Did you, too, first step within this great room, with its strangely warm black tiles covering the floor and creeping halfway up the wall, before they give way to peach-coloured paint? Did you, as I did, step slowly within and startle at the echo of your own footsteps, staring at the great bathtub in the room’s centre, with its polished white porcelain, its shining silver legs and taps? Did you, after a cursory glance about as though for someone who might witness one’s indignity, fall into its dry bed, still clothed and booted, and gasp at the sight of the ceiling?
Mr Smith, I don’t believe even Michelangelo himself had a ceiling like that in his bathroom.
Lying back in the bath, feeling as though I could nearly swim in it, I stared up at the ceiling with my mouth agape, a fish twice over: I stared with delighted awe at the thick, painted clouds and sun-streamed skies, at the way that the clouds were tinged pink and gold by the slight of the setting sun, not depicted in the mural except by evidence of its presence.
In the orphanage, we were very lucky indeed, for we had two bathtubs piped in, but they were very small tubs in a very cold and draughty room down the corridor from the bedroom, and in winter, sometimes one had to smack the taps a few times to dislodge the ice that gathered in them, blocking the pipes.
This bath— Well, suffice it to say, this bath seemed some ways beyond the bounds of luxury. I could barely even imagine bathing in it, lying ensconced in hot water, and in the comfort of such a lovely room…
I don’t know how much of your own house I ought describe to you – were this my diary, I believe I should write down every detail, but surely, if Mnemosyne’s Rest is yours, you must know her every detail?
And yet, sitting down to write down my thoughts to you, Mr Smith, I feel compelled to note down very nearly every one – the bathroom has a high window to let in light, too low to look out of, and as well as the flushing toilet, there is a screen behind which to dress, with a small table to fix one’s hair or such, with a mirror. The screen keeps the mirror cordoned off, I am glad to say – I think I should feel quite revealed in the bath, to bathe before a mirror, no matter that my only watcher would be me.
The bathroom explored, I stepped about the second floor and examined a few of the other rooms – some bedrooms, of course, made fresh and ready as though waiting for a new guest at any moment, but other rooms, too: there were two sitting rooms, or perhaps offices, with writing desks and sofas and such forth, and then there were a few rooms with furniture and boxes with neat white clothes over them, to keep them safe from dust as they went unused.
The servants had told me that the library was on the second floor, but it seemed to me more accurate to say that the second floor was the library. I stepped very slowly out from the stairs, my lips parted in wonder, as I looked at the rows and rows of shelves that seemed to go out in all directions, and for a time, I wandered between them as a child in a new place. There seemed to be books of all descriptions, all kinds, some with leather binding, others bound in cloth and card, others still that had no binding at all, and rested on the shelves in paper tied with string; I saw Greek and English and Latin and French and Russian and Chinese and Sanskrit and a great many scripts beside, seemingly laid out by subject, and to the north side of the great library, in a comfortable little reading nook with a bench outside the window, was something spectacular.
Did you commission this, Mr Smith, or was it perhaps some wondrous heirloom?
Some six feet across was a great table, and in the midst of it, spinning upon some tremendous axis that let it move all the way about, was a globe painted with the world’s map. Never in my years have I seen such a lovely rendition of that cartography: as I reached out, touching the great, carved globe, it struck me as slightly wet to the touch – I believe the bowl beneath the table was filled with water, to allow it to move so smoothly – and I felt beneath my fingers the smoothly hewn surface of Russia’s outstretched plains, and then touched over China, India…
I know not how to convey to you, Mr Smith, the oddity of the sensation that awaited me, touching the places where the globe was painted blue, to better depict the seas rendered there. It was not that I felt my fingers would sink beneath those carefully painted seas, with their marked straits or the occasional white curve of a choppy surface – I think were it that, I might have been able to brush off the sensation as naught more than some fancy of my imagination.
Instead of that, I felt—
I felt dread.
I have never been to the seaside – I believe I conveyed to you in our last correspondence, Mr Smith, that I have never been outside of London, except for perhaps before my father died, but I was scarce six at the time of that unhappy occasion, and I do not recall at all aught that came before it – and while the ocean quite enchants me, so impossibly infinite and beauty is she as a subject, I feel I should be very happy to paddle at her babbling shores or dance within the sand, but not to swim out.
There is something wholly unnatural, I feel, or something that would be unnatural, in a gentleman swimming out into the sea, that depths unknown should span beneath him – by our very nature as walking, breathing creates of the Earth, it is beyond us to dive very deeply before we must rise to the surface to take in a new breath, and even were our lungs no obstacle, water so obscures the natural reach of the sun’s light that unless the water was supremely clear, one would soon be swimming in darkness. When one swims upon the surface of the water with any sort of depth beneath, one submits oneself to the mercies of whatever might lurk beneath. Do you know what it is I mean? When one swims upon the surface of water outside of some little pool – or, I suppose, even within a pool, if it is very deep – one offers oneself for whatever might see us, knowing that we cannot see it.
It felt like that, Mr Smith.
As I traced my fingers over the painted rendition of Gaia’s seas, I felt vulnerable, somehow, as though I was at risk of being swiftly devoured by something unseen.
I withdrew my hand, and wiped it on my handkerchief. The library I left for another day.
The studio was beautiful again – I have never been in such a wonderful sunroom, with two floors to it, and I must have already sketched it a dozen times over, the sort of balcony about the edge of the room, the suspended walkway, and then that dastardly spiral staircase back to the ground floor… Oh, Mr Smith, I have never felt quite so at home in a studio as I do in that sunroom. The sun comes in and is warmed so sweetly by the glass windows and the ceiling, and it’s so delightfully warm—
I set myself about unpacking more of my supplies, setting them into their places about the workspace, within the drawers and about the working desk, and also within a contained cupboard to the edge of the room, for that which needs to be sheltered from the sun’s glare, rather like an artist’s pantry.
By the time I was finished putting my equipment away, as well as filing the sketches I had done of my journey here, it was some time past seven, and I rushed about quite ridiculously in search of the dining hall, but I found it.
Beneath a silver cloche was my meal, a beautifully prepared breast of duck, parsnips and carrots, potatoes… It was a very lovely meal, but I confess I found myself disappointed: I did not expect company, but I had hoped to perhaps meet the servants at Mnemosyne’s House, or even one of them, and yet when I looked into the kitchen that attached to the dining room, I found no sign of anybody. I left a note beside my plate, in absence of someone to thank by mouth, thanking my chef for such a beautifully prepared meal – it seemed to me unlikely that I should see any of the servants, that perhaps they dipped into the house for their duties and then rushed away again, that I should not catch sight of them, nor see evidence of their presence.
Except, of course, when I retired to bed, I found that my trunk had been unpacked, my clothes set neatly in the armoire and in the drawers there, my personal effects laid out on the vanity and the desk respectively.
In any case, I undressed for bed, and I meant – I promise you – to stay up for some while and draw, but alas, I did not. I penned a letter asking after Mr Thornwell’s health, addressed to the Stone Post, and then I left it to dry as I retired to bed.
Mr Smith, in my twenty-two years, I have lain in a good many beds, but never has any of them been so comfortable as this one. As I drew back the coverlet and slipped myself beneath it, I sighed at the heavy softness of the duvet and the warmed sheets beneath – the servants must have placed a warming pan and removed it before I retired – and when my head hit the pillow, I felt as though I were Icarus, putting my head against a cloud.
I was so terribly comfortable that I fell asleep immediately, and my dreams were very pleasant, but swiftly forgotten when I woke again. I lay abed in a sort of haze, so comfortable I scarcely felt equipped to move, basking like a cat in the golden light that filtered in through the open curtains, pouring over me like something molten and lovely.
At some point – the morning is blurry and bleary in my recollection, as some mornings are – I turned my head, I saw the tray on the end table beside me, with breakfast waiting on it.
I jumped awake, startled, reaching out to touch the cloche, which was still warm beneath my fingers, and the mug of tea, which was still steaming with heat; I then recalled that the curtains had been closed when I had come to bed, and that someone must have opened them, presumably when they brought in the tray.
As I rubbed sleepily at my eyes, despairing for the mussed state of my hair, I wondered how I could not have noticed whatever valet or butler had slipped inside, and yet I felt so incredibly well-rested, with that supple, deliciously pleasurable haze that sometimes lingers after a good sleep, that I didn’t find it within myself to dwell on it overlong.
Breakfast was eggs and bacon and toast and these splendid tomatoes that had been roasted very finely, so it was one pleasure after another.
Another note from the servants was set on a card beside my plate – it was a very fine hand, I think I should note, with smooth, sweeping motions of the ink upon the page, with a sort of copperplate lettering that was so legible as to almost be type – and I picked it up to examine.
Dear Mr Cavendish,
There are stamps in the drawer of the end table beside the front door. There is a post office in the village, but you are welcome to leave outgoing letters in the postage drawer also, and we shall take it to post each morning.
Your marble will be delivered come Monday.
Again, there was no signature.
I mused on this as I rose to dress, because I don’t know that it is ordinary for servants to sign the notes that they leave – but with that said, Mr Smith, I don’t know that it is ordinary for servants to leave notes at all. In any case, it seemed to be no matter of great priority, and so I took my letters to you and to Mr Thornwell and set them into envelopes, affixing their postage before putting on my cloak and my boots, to walk into the village. I brought down the breakfast tray myself, although I was somewhat unsteady with it on the narrow stairwell, and I’m sure there must be some other stairwell that makes such things easier, or perhaps a dumbwaiter, but I have not yet discovered either even now.
Having set the tray in the pantry, and keeping the key to Mnemosyne’s Rest in my pocket with my coin purse and the letters I had to send off, I made my way into the village.
As I told you before, I fell quite asleep on the journey between the Stone Post and the house, and was scarcely cognizant of anything that passed by the window, but I feel that Jules couldn’t have led the coach through the village when he brought me home, for the village is down about the bay, or, perhaps it is a cove, I really don’t know the difference… In any case, with Mnemosyne’s Rest being on the very top of the cliff, overlooking it all, it had its own road, which I followed on, and when I reached a crossroads, I followed the path down to the village itself – the other one, I expected, led back toward the Stone Post, although it looked to move through a very imposing grove of trees first…
I made a mental note to search for some manner of map in the library or in the village, and it was at this point that it occurred to me, amusingly enough, that I had seen no signpost for the village, nor the house, nor anything else. I had followed the road some twenty minutes down the hill, with no arrows pointing anywhere at all.
The path down to Heatherton was not very steep, although it was a sharp incline down from the cliff’s top: to accommodate a gentler walk, it meandered one way and the other, like the streak a snake leaves in the sands behind it. I almost felt dizzy with it by the time I came to the bottom, and for a moment I stood still, leaned against the little wall that bordered the last of the path’s curves, and looked at the village ahead of me.
Have you spent much time in Heatherton, Mr Smith?
As I walked down the path and into the village proper, I found the houses to be very quaint: most of them were built of neatly-stacked white brick, many of them with black-tiled rooves. The post office was marked with a black sign-post, painted with white titling, but its door was closed, and when I pressed on the door handle, it didn’t budge. I glanced about for some sign of its opening hours, but I saw none. The only messaging printed was over a letter box to the side, which stated in neatly printed text that letters were collected for delivery every evening at six o’clock.
The post office was closed, and all of the houses had their doors closed, many of them dark or with their windows closed. When I walked further into the village, I saw that there was a small green grocer’s, its primary window boarded up. I stood in the centre of a quaint little square, with a few scattered benches here and there, and a broken fountain in its centre.
Along the beach front, I made out a few scattered chairs and tables, but despite the warmth of the day, no one was sitting at any of them. There was a public house overlooking them, but its door was closed – it was not yet even ten – so I walked past its door and sank slowly to sit down at one of the benches.
Looking back toward the village, I had the strange feeling that despite the warmth of the day and the brightness of the sun, scarce a single cloud in the sky, that Heatherton felt quite oppressively grey, as though the day were painfully overcast. Even the waters of the English Channel seemed to me to be strangely dark, although I knew they ought really be a sunnier grey, and I glanced at the shore and the dark yellow sand that the water came up to lap against. Further up the coast, toward the edge of the cove, I could see outcrops of stone that were no doubt filled with all manner of interesting rockpool, and I made a note to myself to perhaps examine what I found there, before summer began to drain away, but on that day, for reasons I cannot wholly describe, I did not feel ready to do so.
Instead, I sat in silence for quite some time, listening to the quiet breeze of the wind and listening to the regular rhythm of the waves against the sand, smelled the saltwater.
There was noise, of course, but—
But it felt so very peaceful, and so very quiet. I had not in all my life experienced such overwhelming peace, and it left me hypnotised.
I have noticed that, in the days since – on the first night I spent in Mnemosyne’s Rest, I think I must have been too tired to think much on it, but on every night since, I have noticed the incredible silence of the place, where I can hear naught at all. Even the clocks seem to run silently at night. Even in the flat I kept myself, in London, I have always heard the noise of the city about me – the creak of coach wheels and the sound of horse’s hooves; people laughing and walking in the streets; dogs barking and cats caterwauling.
There is none of that in Heatherton, nor about the house that overlooks it.
When I looked up from my reverie beside the sea, the sun had moved not insignificantly in the sky, and when I turned my head, I saw that the door to the public house was open. A large gentleman, broad and brawny and very plump, built like a sailor, was leaning in the doorway and idly polishing a glass, his gaze on me.
He had very square features, as though they had been allotted him at the canning factory, and though his moustache was somewhat bushy, he wore his dark hair slicked back with a good deal of brilliantine, and he had very light-coloured eyes, so much so that I could see their glint even from some distance away.
“I’m very sorry,” I said. “I did not see you.”
“What is the opposite of sorry?” He had a thick Scots accent, and I took a moment to assure myself I knew what it was he had said.
“I hardly know. Glad, I suppose.”
“Then I’m very glad,” he said. “I did see you.”
And then he went inside again.
Mr Smith, it is not that I am stupid. I want to assure you of that – I have never thought of myself as being remarkably or even particularly intelligent, but I am not, I do not think, a fool. With that said, I am foolish enough – and I think that fair to say, for any man alive has some modicum of foolishness in him – that sometimes when a man says something very strange, I struggle to work out for myself whether it is deeply profound, or very stupid.
After a minute’s deliberation, I came to the conclusion that this exchange amounted to the latter.
Taking some uncertain steps toward the pub’s door, I lingered on its threshold, leaning forward to peer inside, and I looked about the room, at the scattered armchairs and stools, and the tables.
I had been in public houses before this moment, of course, but I have never really felt at home in them – I have always felt, somehow, as if I am trespassing in someone else’s domain. Do you know what it is that I mean? There are some places, Mr Smith, where a man just feels as though he doesn’t belong, and it isn’t as though anyone has ever told him so, but no one has ever told him the opposite, either.
Public houses often feel off-limits to me, but there are places besides that – sometimes, the other boys at the orphanage when I was but a child would insist on taking a shortcut through a churchyard, and I felt the same there, too. Even though I kept to the path, and never stepped into the grass or – gods forbid – walked over the graves themselves, I felt as though I were being observed, somehow, and that my watcher disapproved of my being in such a place.
I often feel as though I am being observed by some watcher unseen.
It is, at times, a very comforting idea; at other times, when pursuing the forbidden, it is, in its way, pleasurable, exciting… Other times, Mr Smith, it quite terrifies me in a way I hardly know how to bear.
I did not feel watched now, precisely.
I merely felt as though I didn’t belong.
“In the house up the hill, are you?” asked the publican, as he stepped behind the great bar, and I looked with fascination at the display behind the bar. There was far more wine than I would have expected – I would have been given to understand that the working man in the North of England would have preferred ale or cider over wine, but there were a great many bottles of wine displayed with their labels facing outward, along with the expected spirits. To one side, there were a few stacked barrels – kegs, I supposed – but they did not take to the forefront as I might have expected.
“Yes,” I said, and stepped inside, rolling my shoulders as a strange shiver ran down my spine. “In Mnemosyne’s Rest. You know it?”
“I’ve seen it,” he said. “Never been up to it.”
“You know its owner? Mr Smith?”
“Can’t say I do,” said the publican. The sink sloshed under his great hands as he washed some glasses, and I craned my head over the bar to watch where he set them to dry, placing them deftly and swiftly over a rack. “Not for me to know people like that. My name’s Si.”
The publican gave me a very queer look, then, and when he frowned, his moustache shifted most amusingly, in mirror of the furrow of his eyebrows.
“Most guess Simon,” he said mildly. “But, yes.”
“I knew a boy called Silenus,” I said. “He is gone away to Ireland now – he oversees a silver mine.”
Silenus inclined his head, looking at me very thoughtfully. His eyes, I now surmised, were such a very pale green as to seem almost white from farther away, but up close, they were the colour of one’s paint water when one was painting a forest in water colours. “Where is it,” he asked, “that Mr Smith has brought you from?”
“London,” I said. “I am an artist – I sculpt.”
“He sponsors you?”
Silenus looked at me for a moment, and then said, “Knew your father, did he?”
“I don’t believe so, but I could hardly say,” I said, discomfited by this mode of questioning. It seemed to me to be a very personal query coming from a stranger, and I rather resented it. “I wonder – do you know when the post office is open?”
Silenus blinked, as though the question were a surprise to him – or as though he had never known Heatherton to have a post office. “Is it open now?”
“No. Or— It wasn’t, earlier.”
“Then it is closed,” said Silenus, and shrugged his shoulders. “I expect it will be for some time.”
“And the grocer’s?”
“The grocer is gone away.”
“Are all the houses empty?”
“Not at all. Heatherton is quiet in the summer months, that is all. It comes alive in winter.”
“Oh,” I said. Perhaps my disappointment showed in my face, for Silenus looked at me very seriously, and then, as a man at theatre, straightened and gestured to the variety of bottles he had on display.
“No, thank you. I must walk home.”
“Another time, then. You are very handsome, Mr Cavendish – you would be quite popular with the girls of Heatherton.”
I was pleased at the praise, of course, and I gave a small bow and a nod of my head before I stepped out. Heatherton village was just as oddly quiet as it had been when I initially walked through it, and the climb back up the hill to Mnemosyne’s Rest was a somewhat arduous one, so much so that when I returned, I ate the meal that had been left for me beneath a cloche in the dining hall, and thought to take a rest upon the chaise long in the studio, beneath the warm light of the sun.
Have you ever had a revelation, Mr Smith, that comes to you just before you fall asleep, but you are so much on the precipice between wakefulness and dreaming that although it comes and spreads itself in your consciousness in stark relief, you fall immediately asleep anyway?
That is the way in which I realised that I had never told Silenus my name.
I woke from my short repose in poor mood, and then remembered the oddity with Silenus, and brushed the thought aside with the assurance that I must merely have misremembered our encounter, or that perhaps he had seen my name written somewhere about my person.
I spent a few more hours, then, exploring the house, learning its curious geography, and in these past few days, Mr Smith, that is all that I have done – I have gone between walking the house and mapping it within my own head, and drawing a good deal down in the studio. There is a tremendous peace here, you know, basking in the light of the sun as I work, and although I initially felt some strange trepidation thinking of the village of Heatherton, being as it is a Friday evening, I am planning to take a hot bath as soon as these pages are completed and blotted, and then I shall go down into the village.
Come the winter months, I might ask for an escort to and fro, for I should think those paths get quite icy when the frost sets in, and I should hate to fall where no one might know where I am, but for now the weather is so very temperate, and the days are very long, that there is more than enough light to see by.
I confess, Mr Smith, I find in these letter such a sensation of liberation, in a way – if a diary is so freeing, when one keeps one, perhaps I ought have begun to keep one many years ago, and this is better than a diary, I think, for I have another man reading that which I say, and that makes me feel as though I have a sort of connection in the world, no matter that I pull on only one end of the rope, and that you are never to pull back.
I suppose that must sound very strange, but suffice it to say, I am grateful indeed at the idea that you might be—
Well, not watching over me, but you know, reading my letters, and approving of my art. Oh, I do hope you approve of my art, Mr Smith. I should feel quite sorry if you didn’t.
The bell is ringing, which I believe means my bath is run – I shall leave you here, Mr Smith.
Yours soon to be much the cleaner,