It’s night in the Shadowlands. I thought I would sketch for you three portraits, of Mrs. Moth, Miss Lavender, and Miss Gray, so you know what they look like as we gather around the dinner table, or around the parlor fire after dinner. And I thought I would indicate for you, as well, what sorts of being they are, because they are most certainly not like you and me. (Assuming of course that you’re like me. Which you may not be, I don’t know.)
Let’s start with Mrs. Moth. I can’t tell you how old she is. She looks as though she might be a grandmother, but I know she participated in the Eleusinian mysteries, and she describes the armies of Alexander vividly. Her first name is Nemesis, and I’ve asked Hyacinth if she is the Nemesis, but Hyacinth has just said, “We all serve Mother Night in our own ways,” which is exactly the sort of answer you would expect Miss Gray to give. In fact, I’m convinced she got it from Miss Gray. I think it’s safe to surmise that once, long ago, Mrs. Moth was one of the minor Greek deities, which were worshiped not in the cities but in the countryside, where people felt the vicissitudes of fate particularly strongly.
What does she look like? She’s short and plump, and has gray hair pulled into a bun at the back of her head. She looks very kind, unless you skip a class (even to save the world) or it’s obvious that you only started practicing your transformations the night before. And then beware Mrs. Moth!
Miss Lavender is just the opposite, tall and thin, although she also has a bun of gray hair – but much less tidy. Whereas Mrs. Moth is round, she is angular, all bones. She has a long nose and chin, and she looks a little frightening, like a picture of a stereotypical witch. But she is actually by far the more lenient of the two. If you explain to her, very clearly, that you skipped class because you, Tilda, Emmie, and Mouse needed to save the world, she will allow you to make up your homework.
As I think I’ve mentioned, Hyacinth told me that she was once a priestess of Mother Night, in ancient Rome. I don’t know how she went from being a priestess to being a headmistress, but her school seems to have existed at different times, under different names, for most of modern history. (If you count anything after Rome as modern, which is what Miss Lavender taught us in Magical History II.)
And now we come to Miss Gray, who is truly an enigma. “How old is Miss Gray, do you think?” I once asked Hyacinth.
“As old as time,” she said. “Do you know what existed, even before the ancient gods and goddesses?”
“No,” I said.
“The powers of nature. Before there were people to create gods in their image, there were the trees, and the rocks, and the waters. And they had their own powers, emanations of their own consciousness. Miss Gray is one of those.”
She doesn’t look that old. She has very neat black hair in a sort of page-boy (a haircut I think she’s had since the 1920s), and gray eyes, and a small nose. And I have to say, she has a great figure. (She would be very easy to fall in love with. If you dared fall in love with someone like Miss Gray.) If you tell her that you need to leave right now, to save the world, she would look at you disapprovingly, and then point toward the door. “Oh, all right,” she would say. “If you must, you must.”
Mrs. Moth always looks comfortable; Miss Lavender often looks windblown, as though she had dressed in a hurricane; Miss Gray just looks proper. You can’t imagine her wearing anything inappropriate, ever. Tonight she has on gray wool slacks, a silk blouse with a lace collar, and a brooch at her throat. Mrs. Moth has on a brown linen dress with a cardigan over it, and a rather large set of pearls that you would think are false, but aren’t. Miss Lavender has on a pair of faded jeans and a sort of short cotton kimono that she uses for gardening; she was obviously out in the garden and forgot to change.
(Where did Miss Lavender come from, you ask? She just showed up for dinner, walking through the front door and saying, “I’m sorry, am I late?” Sometimes I wonder how she runs a school, but it’s Mrs. Moth who does the accounts, and Miss Lavender really is a brilliant teacher. And brilliant at dealing with parents, even impossible ones like Mrs. Gaunt.)
So it’s Mrs. Moth, Miss Lavender, Miss Gray, Hyacinth, me, and of course Mouse (about whom more later), now sitting by the parlor fire drinking coffee, tea, or sherry. But I’m told that later in the week we will have a dinner party.
And who am I, writing this? My shadow self, Thea rather than Dora, who is similar in many ways but quite different in others. It’s nice to know that while one of me is sitting in a house near Boston, Massachusetts, the other of me is having an after-dinner drink (yes, I chose the sherry) with some of the most interesting beings I know, who are at the moment discussing how Tilda, Emmie, Mouse, and I saved the world. I mean, the first time.
I hope that sherry you chose is an Amontillado, then I can be confident you are in the right frame of mind. Cheers!
I’ve never actually tried an Amontillado. Time to do some research for literary purposes!