"Come in," Morgana said shyly in response to the knock on her door.
She knew that William was on his way with her breakfast. Violet had told her so--just before the young maid went to tend to Lennie.
Morgana was aware that being an accepted member of the family also meant that she'd have to interact with people more. She had become unaccustomed to human contact. For over a year, the only person she saw with any regularity was Ivy Blessum who treated her both as a beloved pet and as a wild animal. Since she was being treated like livestock, Morgana had begun to think and act accordingly. If Ivy thought of her as some sort of creature, that's how she was going to behave--sometimes lashing out with her pincers, scratching Ivy's thin skin with the roughness of her deformity.
Every so often, Jackson, Gregory or Hargrave, or even Causer, would look in on her in her cell. Then, she really put on the act--the routine she'd learned so well working in curiosities shows and traveling fairs. It had been an act--designed to separate cruel gawkers from their money. After all, she'd been told so many times that all she had to offer was her grotesque appearance. People weren't giving away their hard-earned coins to see a lady-like Lobster Woman. They wanted a beast! So, she created a wild persona to match her grotesquerie.
Soon, however, the distinction between the "Lobster Woman" act and her own being became vague, and, when trapped in a dark cell for months on end, Morgana had no choice but to give up any shred of dignity she'd ever had.
Suddenly, in one evening, that changed. Suddenly, she was Aunt Morgana with a doting niece and nephew and another nephew of sorts in Robert. Suddenly, she was thrust into daily interaction with kind-hearted souls who genuinely seemed to wish to look after her--family and staff alike. So sudden had the change occurred that Morgana wondered if she could completely bury that primitive act which had slowly become her reality. A few days before, she was a monster mollified only by watching doll heads float in a large jar of oil.
It was easy enough to have a natural, and comfortable conversation with Punch. Punch understood her, she knew that. He was a curiosity of sorts in his own way. That shared bond made their time together effortless. So it was with Robert and Lennie, too--each of them outcasts in one way or another.
Accepting the friendships of Violet and Gamilla was also comfortable enough. Gamilla, too, knew what it was like to be different, as well as to be trapped. They were both new to their freedoms--more or less. Gamilla's bright eyes and gentle manner soothed Morgana, and she also felt safe in the presence of the African woman who seemed to have powers beyond that of any other girl.
Violet, too, afforded effortless chat. She and Morgana had a peculiar bond, after all. Morgana had known that immediately on the night she had carried the girl off--one of the final acts of the former wild woman who resided within her. The two other girls--Ethel and Maude, were just as gentle as Violet. They were no threat. Ethel had even stayed behind to chat during one of her breaks from the nursery. She was nothing to fear.
But, it was the men who made her nervous. Punch and Robert had placed such faith and trust into their valets--Charles and Gerard. If those two had earned the confidence of her nephews, Morgana could learn to do the same. Still, she knew men looked at her differently.
Morgana had always been aware that her face was pretty. Though her body was mangled and upsetting to most, she could usually catch a man's eye if she was still and carefully obscured her... peculiarities. Oh, but when they saw her body and her pincers--those few men who lent her a smile, their faces turned to looks of contempt, of disgust, of anger--as if her innocent look had somehow cheated them.
Yes, men confused and frightened her. She'd learn to interact with Charles and Gerard, and, even with the handsome son of the cook--the poor lost young man.
William was another thing all together. After all, he wasn't one of the Duke's personally chosen staff. He came with the Hall--just like that awful Gregory who had treated her so roughly.
She nodded to herself to steady her nerves. She could do it--smile at the young man as he set down the tray. She'd stay in her bed and hide her claws. Surely he'd been told to be nice to her--that William. Didn't Violet even say, "Oh, William--he ain't a bad lot"? Yes.
Punch, Robert and Lennie had faith in her, confidence that she could be a part of the family. Being part of the family required being part of the routine and that required that she deal with the staff.
This knock on the door was merely a young man from downstairs come to bring her breakfast.
Or was it?
What was taking so long? Hadn't she said that he could enter?
"Good heavens," Morgana whispered. What if it was Lennie's fiance come to meet her?
No, no, she wasn't ready for that. No, she was not ready to meet some strange earl even if he was to be wed to that lovely niece of hers.
Morgana felt her heart race. "No. I am part of the family." She muttered.
"Come in," she repeated, certain it was surely just William with her breakfast.
Sadly, Morgana was mistaken.
William's hand did not open the door. It was the rough hand of another man. Another man whose contempt was all too evident.
Did you miss Chapters 1-76 of A Recipe for Punch? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 78.