In which our heroine unwraps a most unwelcome and oppressive offering.
You could have strung a thin ribbon right between their gazes, Millie and her Imago; they now turned towards that object which had so abruptly stunned their breath. “But”, thought Millie after all, “this box in the middle of the room is so small.” It made one think that without the pallor of that moonbeam falling upon it, it might have even seemed innocuous. So too thought Imago, in his own way, and his mind went about stenciling and tracing the shape before him.
The raven had already ventured forward, though with the over-the-shoulder uncertainty of a sparrow. He snuck towards the package under the pretence that it couldn’t see him if he paced himself and hunched his wings as low as he could. Then he clicked his beak and pecked the box, reversing halfway back as soon as he did so.
Millie looked on all the while, and began to notice a gradual recovery of the title of ‘raven’ in her bird. Imago would not be defeated; he began to flick and knock at the white package with as much curiosity in his body as he had irritation. At this Millie slipped a bare foot onto the floor and together they hovered over the freshly delivered trinket.
She offered her forefinger and thumb to the air – perhaps she could bring herself to tug at the ribbon. The mere thought of Gunthar Hartsbinder’s chubby pink hands tying up a bow made her ill. It was even the manner in which he had dropped the unwelcome gift onto the floor of her room – enough to put one off a pretty white box of cakes, nay, even a hatbox were it also a shade of white. Her fingers failed her, starred out and away from the palms, and retreated towards her lips.
Imago and Millie were cold and tired and wanted none of what Master Hartsbinder insisted on offering that night; and yet he was waiting, and the soirée was waiting, and the coachmen were waiting, and her lovely bonneted ladies were also waiting. At the door, eager to lace, pin and curl. Giggles flared up and were muffled again outside her chamber. And then his voice came to the keyhole, as it did often enough:
– “Ohhh Frau Millieee…remember now…your dear, dear Gunthar iz waiting ever zo patient! Hihi…I pray dat mine handiwork is to your liking! Hurry uuuup….for I am curioser than your British kitty-cats, ya! ”
Millie could barely muster an answer, but she contorted her upper lip towards her nose and struggled to weave any number of words together:
– “Ehhhh, ah…yes Master Hartsbinder…eh…please, a lady needs some…privacy…ehehe…”
Gunthar made very little effort to suppress the offence caused by this mild and unconfident chastisement, and Millie could hear him mumbling all the way down the hall.
She held her breath and pulled the satin ribbon, which was itself as white as the box. Imago snapped up the end of it and pulled along with his Millie. With the ribbon gone, the sides of the package relaxed and rose a little: so Millie took one finger and flipped the loathed thing open.
The pallor only repeated itself. All they saw were ivory frills, and Millie’s eyes widened. Imago hopped right into the box – almost as if to break up the whiteness of the dress for a moment – then flew onto Millie’s chilly shoulder. She picked up the garment with cold and trembling fists.
Layers dropped and unfolded into multiple whitenesses: large panels of lace and ballooning clouds of tulle stuffed at the shoulders. She could now see however, that this wash of white was not impregnable, for loosely draped at both neckline and hem were the most garish embellishments: large red satin roses puffed up in an excess of bloom.
At last, the most inappropriate seersucker train rolled out of the already massive folds – too long to be justified by either fashion or taste, suitable only for…
– “Oh no Imago, no! It cannot be…I am simply getting ahead of myself, I must wipe that thought of all thoughts clean off my brain…”
And yet still, Millie felt quite irrevocably ill…
To be continued…