| A VICTORIAN GARDEN
By Kathryne Kennedy
"Elizabeth says there's a magic garden in the center of the maze," said Lady Lydia Grimford,
trying to laugh and managing only a wheezing squeak. She took a deep breath and strode
purposefully across the room of her husband's study, the flounced hoops of her dress
swaying with each step.
From the corner of her eye she watched her husband, Lord Charles Grimford, blink in
astonishment. That she dared enter his presence uninvited, much less his only
sanctuary...she relaxed slightly when she saw that his curiosity outweighed his anger.
He opened a time-oiled mahogany box and extracted one of his favorite cigars. "The child
always did have a splendid imagination." His words blew a menacing cloud of smoke
unerringly towards her delicate nose.
The pungent aroma assaulted Lydia's senses and she leaned towards the open window,
breathing deeply of the summer air and fighting the urge to swoon.
"But Elizabeth's hardly a child anymore, Charles," she replied, a tremor to her voice because
she dared to contradict him. "She's just a year younger than I was when we were wed."
He acknowledged her statement with a grunt and several sucking puffs on his cigar. Lydia
leaned farther out the window, caught a glimpse of a pink bonnet disappearing into the maze,
and clutched at the edge of the sill. Her daughter continued to steal off into the labyrinth
every chance she could get, despite the protests of her mother.
Lydia desperately tried to follow the progress of that pink flash of color, but the overgrowth
wove a thick covering atop the paths, and at the heart of the maze several trees added to that
roofing. Surely nothing natural could grow in such gloom.
"What is in the middle of the labyrinth?" she whispered, then jumped when her husband
answered her. One would think at his age that his hearing wouldn't be so acute, but
unfortunately he continued to have uncommon physical vigor.
"Why don't you go see for yourself, my dear?" taunted Lord Grimford. And taunt it was, for
when Lydia first came to her new home she'd tried to win her way through the maze. And at
that time, with her dowry providing for its care, the grounds had been carefully tended and
the labyrinth had seemed just a lovely green puzzle for her to solve.
Lydia shuddered at the memory of it; her childish delight slowly turning into unbridled terror
when each path brought her to a dead end. Hours later she'd collapsed into a quivering pile
of lace skirts and wondered what it would be like to starve to death. She'd screamed until the
gardener found her, then couldn't speak above a whisper for days afterward. Her husband's
amusement every time she rasped a word had sent her crying to her room until her voice had
Lady Grimford could not approach the maze without suffering from severe palpitations.
She flinched when the palm of his hand whispered dryly across the silk shoulder of her
gown. She looked up into his black, glittering eyes and read a look of patronizing satisfaction.
"You needn't be concerned," he murmured, "There's nothing beneath those trees but a few
old statues and benches."
Lydia quivered at his nearness. The things she braved for her daughter! If the girl had any
idea of what she suffered for her sake she certainly wouldn't be running off through the
bushes. She'd be spending all of her time with her loving mother.
Lydia took a deep breath. "Charles, it's time we presented Elizabeth to society." She felt him
immediately stiffen beside her.
He would never admit that his hesitancy might be from lack of funds, and although Lydia
would never inquire as to their present finances, she wasn't stupid.
"Nothing elaborate," she hastened to assure him. "Just a small coming-out ball. Until
Elizabeth's recognized as an adult we cannot expect her to act like one." And then Lydia
breathed a sigh of relief. There, she'd stood up to him--had not only asked her husband for
something, but justified it as well. Not for herself would she ever do such a thing. Only
"You're probably right," he grudgingly agreed, slipping his hand down to her waist, pulling
her against him. His cigar-tainted breath stirred the golden curls across her forehead. She
tried not to pull away. "Would this make you happy?" he crooned into her ear.
She closed her eyes and repeated a litany that she usually reserved for the evenings, on those
nights he crawled into her bed: He's an earl, you Married Well, he's an earl. It was odd how
that voice sounded so much like her mother's.
"Yes," she croaked, wondering for the thousandth time why he didn't avail himself of a
mistress, like any proper gentleman of the ton.
Lips like dried paper pressed against her own, the smell of cigar and something else,
something that Lydia suspected to be a vinegar of old age, overwhelmed her. And then his
tongue, thrusting into her mouth, a dusty thing that tried to suck the moisture of her youth.
Lydia broke from his embrace and rushed from the room, closed the door on his
contemptuous laughter, and gagged softly in the cavernous hall of Grimford Manor.
Elizabeth's dark blue eyes welled up with tears and her mother hastily pressed a lace kerchief
to the lids. Her daughter's eyes were her best feature, and already they'd begun to swell and
"I thought your coming-out would make you happy, Bethy."
The girl seemed to shrink in upon herself and Lydia frowned in consternation. Hadn't she
taught Elizabeth the duties of a woman? That Marrying Well was the epitome of
"Just think, a new gown, just for you. It shall be silk, perhaps a dark blue to match your
eyes, with tiny jet beads around the bodice and matching slippers--oh, and beads twined
through your hair. You shall be absolutely lovely."
Elizabeth peeked around the handkerchief and smirked in spite of her tears. Lydia laughed
aloud; her daughter could always make her forget herself.
"No, my darling, you shall never be beautiful. Too much of your father in you for that. But
accomplished, yes, and I promise you'll be the belle of the ball."
Elizabeth sighed. "But should I marry, I shan't be able to live here anymore." She stood up
from the pianoforte, her lessons forgotten, and walked across the room, stumbling over her
feet but too upset to apologize for her usual lack of grace. She stared out the window with
sorrowful, hungry eyes.
Lydia's heart sank. She tried desperately not to think of losing the one thing she continued to
live her life for. "We will visit each other often, and meet at tea and luncheons. We shall
always be together."
"But the garden..."
For a moment Lady Grimford felt confused. The garden? Oh, yes. In the center of the
maze. And then for the first time she could remember, anger toward Elizabeth flared inside
her. Her daughter worried about missing some imaginary garden more than her own mother?
"You'll barely have time to play in the maze anyway," she snapped. "We shall be entirely too
busy planning the ball."
Elizabeth turned from the window and stared at her mother as if she were looking at some
fearsome beast. "But I love the garden, Mother. It's my very own special place."
Lydia walked across the frayed Persian carpet and pulled the heavy drapes over the window,
sealing the parlor in gloom. "There's no garden in the maze, Elizabeth. It's a childish fantasy
that you must put behind you."
"It's a magic garden, " whispered the girl, "And I think you're just jealous."
Lydia collapsed on the velvet settee and stared at her daughter. What had happened to the
adoring child she'd raised? That Elizabeth would actually argue with her... "I always do what
I think is best for you, Bethy. I've never knowingly lied to you; I put your needs always
before mine. I've played dolls with you and sat at your bedside whenever you had the fever.
I've devoted my life to you and this is my reward. I only asked that you grow up a little and
you treat me as if I were an enemy." She paused for breath and began to cry.
Elizabeth wrung her hands together, her eyes shifting back and forth from the window to her
mother's tearful face.
"Please stop," she finally sobbed, and flung herself into Lydia's lap. "I shall spend only one
hour a day in the garden, I promise. But please, I cannot bear to see you cry."
Lydia stroked her daughter's wispy brown hair. There, she thought to herself, much better.
No one could love her child as fiercely as she did.
In her agitation, Lady Grimford actually addressed a scullery maid enlisted to clean the
ballroom. "Have you seen Lady Elizabeth? We simply must plan how to decorate this place."
"No, mum," lisped the woman. "But I 'spect she's in the maze."
Lydia's hands fluttered gracefully. "Why?" she demanded to herself, only half-aware that she
spoke aloud. "Why must she always spend her hour there when I need her the most?"
The maid stared at her mistress with a calculating eye. She leaned forward and lowered her
voice. "The gardener says it's haunted, mum."
"What?" Lydia ripped her gaze away from the open doors and stared at the woman as if
she'd just seen her. "What did you say about the labyrinth?"
"Well, I can't rightly be sure, mistress. But the old gardener, Tom, says he hears
voices--most specially at the witchin' hour--comin' from the center of the place."
Lady Grimford's mouth dropped open in outrage at such a preposterous remark. The maid
took a step back, her homely face quickly adopting its usual sullen countenance.
"It's probably just my daughter playing," snapped Lydia, appalled that she'd actually listened
to such nonsense. "Please do not spread your superstitions to the rest of the servants."
"Aye, mum," whispered the maid contritely, quickly resuming her polishing with frantic zeal.
Lydia picked up her skirts and ran across the ballroom, her slippers making tiny tracks in the
dust. This was the last time her daughter would be unavailable to her. She must stay away
from that maze--even the servants were beginning to talk! With a determination that only her
fierce love could provide, she stomped across the lawn, straight towards the entrance to the
labyrinth. She had one brief flash of cowardice and considered asking Charles to go after the
girl, but he would want a reward and she'd rather face anything than that.
Lydia's heart began to pound in her ears, drowning out the sound of chattering birds and
buzzing insects. She hesitated at the entrance, ribs straining against her corset, panting for
breath. She hated this feeling, sure that her heart would burst and she'd die from the panic
that threatened to overwhelm her.
The maze had changed since she was last here. For the worst, surely, the overgrowth
allowing only a narrow tunnel into the depths.
Lady Grimford plunged inside.
Black as pitch; red eyes peeking from between every limb of bush. Those same limbs
reaching forward like fleshless arms, ripping out strands of her hair, flailing them behind her
like triumphant banners of gold. Blood trickled into scratches on her cheeks, burning like
acid and salting her lips.
Lydia ran, the skirts of her day dress tripping her until finally she sprawled face down in the
moldy earth. She clawed at the dirt, nails ripping until they bled, wanting to scream Charles's
name yet knowing the futility of it. For her fear amused him--aroused him--and only when it
began to irritate would he attempt to cease its cause. For a brief moment she allowed herself
to truly hate her husband...until she recalled his precious gift, one that only he could have
given her. Elizabeth.
She screamed her daughter's name, but no sound issued from her throat. Lydia rose to her
feet, ripping the hem of her dress, and oddly that tearing noise echoed through the tunnels as
if they were halls of stone. Again she ran, slower now, the earth starting to tilt crazily at her,
The heart of the maze. Huge, gnarled trees rose around her, their bark wrinkled as deeply as
the skin of her husband. A garden of mushrooms grew in abundance; penile stalks of gray
that bent drunkenly beneath the weight of their caps. Stone gargoyles hunched among the
fungus, horned and scaled, their wide grins leering at her. They whispered of the evils
intended for her daughter, once they had the girl firmly ensnared in their web.
Lady Grimford swayed, the back of her hand pressed to her forehead, her vision dimming to
black. "Elizabeth!" she screamed.
"Mother," answered her daughter, the voice pulsing towards her as if from a long distance.
"I'm here--it's only a bad dream--wake up Mother."
Lydia opened her eyes to sunshine streaming through the familiar peach curtains of her own
room. Dark blue eyes filled with concern looked down at her, and over on her silk vanity
bench her husband sat, frowning.
"But, I was in the center of the labyrinth..."
Charles stood, bones popping, and left the room.
"Yes, Mother, you were in the maze. But I found you just inside the entrance. You must
"No, no," mumbled Lydia. "I was there, at the heart of it." She clutched her daughter's arm.
"It's evil, and it wants to take you away from me."
"Don't say such things," breathed Elizabeth. She turned, picked up something from the
bedside table and presented it to her mother with a flourish. "I brought this for you, from my
Lydia blinked. Her daughter cradled a flower, a white lily, whose petals flowed over her
arms halfway to the floor. The pollen-tipped stamens rose quivering to her daughter's chin
and dusted it with yellow. With a trembling hand Lydia reached out and stroked the fine
down that covered the gigantic blossom.
"If my garden was truly like your dream," said Elizabeth, "could it have grown something
It was simply, thought Lady Grimford, the most exquisite thing she'd ever seen. She moaned
and snatched her hand away from the deceptive flower, and it suddenly began to wither.
Brown rot ate through the petals and crept toward the center of the bloom.
"It doesn't last for long away from the garden," Elizabeth said mournfully. The thing in her
arms crackled; pieces of black debris fluttered to the polished floor.
"You must promise me," Lydia demanded, "to stay away from the labyrinth."
Elizabeth wheezed, her chest straining against the fabric of her bodice. "Please, please don't
ask that of me."
"Promise me," Lydia repeated.
Her daughter's lips turned blue at the edges. "I can't!"
Elizabeth crushed the remains of the flower between her two hands. She squirmed and
struggled for breath, as if she actually, physically, fought against some smothering weight. "I
shall--I shall spend my days with you Mother," she finally panted. "All of them. I promise."
Lady Grimford sighed, her fingers relaxing on the twisted remains of her bed linen. There,
she thought, Bethy's still mine.
The candlelight lit the ballroom with a soft glow, helping to hide the worn spots on furniture
and tapestries. The guests displayed their best finery, waltzing in pairs of flowing silk and
intricately tied cravats. Lydia smiled, pleased with her work. True, there was a touch of
shabbiness to the room, but the master of the house was an earl, and these walls had once
Her smile faded into a frown as she watched her daughter stumble across the room to stare
longingly out the open balcony door. Over the past few weeks Elizabeth had quickly
withered, like the blossom she'd plucked from her garden. Without complaint she continued
to suffer from a worsening condition that robbed her of breath. She seemed to be slowly
suffocating, yet resigned to the fact of it.
"You shouldn't have forbidden her the maze," said Charles.
Lydia jumped. "You startled me."
He ignored her, seemingly so used to her reaction that it required no comment on his part. "It
was Elizabeth's only freedom. Not a place of evil or magic. Only a clearing in the labyrinth
where she could go to be by herself."
Lydia stared in astonishment at her husband. He barely acknowledged the girl's presence,
and now to criticize her care of Bethy...of course, that was it. It didn't particularly matter to
him, it was just that his age impelled him to bestow wisdom whenever he could.
"Excuse me," she said, "I must see to Elizabeth's dance card."
Lady Grimford wove her way through the throngs of people, nodding and greeting when
required, but always keeping her eyes fixed on the abject form of her daughter. She stopped
to exchange pleasantries with the overly plump Lady Windsor, when she noticed such a
startling change in her daughter's demeanor that she failed to reply to the lady's polite
Elizabeth suddenly tilted her head back and laughed, a full-throated cry of delight that held
not a hint of a wheeze. The clumsiness that Lydia thought was a part of her daughter's
character vanished, and with the grace of a queen she approached the balcony door. In the
opening stood a boy, resplendent in the most astounding shade of green attire, with hair as
brown as the earth and eyes bluer than the sky. And in his arms he cradled an impossibly
large, white lily.
Lady Grimford swooned. Lady Windsor squeaked in alarm, and she and several guests
began to wave their lace fans at her face. Charles abruptly appeared, squeezing her arm in a
painful grip, his face a mask of barely disguised embarrassment.
"What's wrong with you?" he growled in her ear.
Her mouth opened and closed several times before she could answer. "She won't come to
them, so they have come to her."
"What are you talking about, woman?"
"The garden! What else, but Elizabeth's garden!"
Lord Charles Grimford steered his wife over to a velvet-upholstered chair and covertly
shoved her into it. He handed her his glass of port and demanded she drink it.
Under no circumstances, thought Lydia, should a lady partake of alcoholic beverages.
Charles glared at her and she emptied the goblet, choked until tears came to her eyes, then
grinned when a delicious feeling of warmth spread through her body.
"They're waltzing," she said dreamily.
Charles looked up, spied his daughter and the green-attired boy, and Lydia watched with
satisfaction as his enormously bushy brows rose in surprise. The boy held their daughter
gently in his arms, and Elizabeth, oh--Elizabeth! She shined with a radiance matched only by
the bewitching allure of her partner.
They danced with an intricacy of moves that spoke of long practice, whirling through the
other couples until they were the only dancers on the floor, the guests standing aside to
watch the pair weave their magic around the room. Bethy's eyes sparkled; the beads in her
dress and hair caught the candlelight and threw it back at the crowd. She dipped and spun
with fluid symmetry, her eyes aglow with a light that miraculously transformed the features
of her face into a beauty unequaled.
Lydia sat spellbound like the rest, hearing the comments of her guests, waves of sound that
flowed with the music of the waltz.
"So much like her mother--"
"It's like turning back the clock--"
"Lady Grimford must be so proud--"
And Lydia would have been. If she'd had anything to do with it. The truth was that Elizabeth
had shriveled under her loving hands, and flourished only under the care of her garden.
The music stopped and a silence that rang in the ears testified to the bemusement of the
audience. The boy in green walked to the balcony doors and turned, holding out his hand to
Elizabeth. The gaze of her daughter suddenly impaled Lydia, who read such overwhelming
regret in the dark blues eyes that she gasped with fear. But Elizabeth turned her back on the
boy and walked towards her, stumbling slightly, and the boy vanished as suddenly as he had
appeared. Only the blackening lily, lying forgotten between the doors, offered silent proof of
And of course, Elizabeth. The glow faded but remained throughout the evening, ensuring her
mother's promise. Her daughter was the belle of the ball.
Lady Grimford could see the light in the heart of the maze from the window of her room.
The clock chimed midnight and she dressed, throwing an embroidered shawl over her
shoulders against the chill of the evening. Elizabeth had gone into the maze. She had not
disobeyed, for her promise only extended to the daytime. But still--certainly not to her
mother's surprise--she'd gone to her garden.
Before she could think better of it, Lydia stole down the stairs and out the door, barely
hesitating at the entrance to the labyrinth. There would be no fear of getting lost; the light led
her unerringly into the heart of the place. And the tunnels were so unlike her dream, a gentle
fog softening the outlines of the bushes and a serene glow--like the one that had lit her
daughter's face just this evening--illuminating the path ahead.
Something tugged on her hem and she turned to look into the disgruntled face of her
"I knew you'd do this," he snapped.
"Elizabeth is here."
"Of course she is, after your foolish imaginings forced her to sneak off to it in the middle of
Lydia laughed, an echo of the tinkling sound already issuing from the heart of the maze. "It
was foolish of me, wasn't it? But Elizabeth showed me the truth of this place."
"Truth?" he growled in a dangerously low voice. "Both of you are bloody silly! There's
nothing here but an old, neglected patch of weeds. And I intend to prove it!"
Lord Grimford pushed his wife in front of him, prodding her on when her skirts hampered
her movements. They followed the light, and the voices that spoke with laughter and joy.
When they reached the center of the maze, Charles nudged his wife again and she stumbled,
falling to her knees at the edge of the clearing.
Lydia stared, the bones of her corset pinching her ribs while she gasped for breath. This was
certainly not the place of her dreams.
Elizabeth sat on a carpet of flowers, her head flung back to laugh up at the boy from the ball.
The gargoyle statues that had sat in the clearing for decades couldn't be seen, for overlapping
their place shone an opening of golden light, a pulsing brilliance that lit the cavern-like growth
of the maze. Spilling out of it in a spray of colorful profusion grew a garden that dizzied her
senses with its combined perfumes. Bluebells that tinkled, lady slippers as big as her foot,
daisies that quivered with remembered sunshine, mounds of lilacs that surely would make
the softest of beds...Lydia sighed.
"Mother!" sang Elizabeth, her eyes shining with welcome. The boy looked up and smiled.
He had dimples on both cheeks.
"What did I tell you?" barked Charles. "There's nothing here but a few ugly statues and a lot
of dead leaves."
"Is that what you see, Charles?" asked Lydia.
"What the devil do you mean?"
The boy shook his head sadly, a lock of brown hair falling between his crystal blue eyes.
Elizabeth stood and tenderly smoothed it back, turned and smiled forlornly at her mother.
"Father may not be able to see beyond the world he's made for himself. He saw Treis at the
ball only because he chose to become a part of our world for that moment." She looked at
the boy with her heart in her eyes. "However hard that was for him to do, he did it just for
Lydia nodded and wiped damp palms across the tumble of her skirts. She squinted into the
golden opening and glimpsed a world that beckoned with a promise of joy beyond the
imaginings of her own fanciful mind. "Thank you, Bethy, for showing this to me."
"Showing you what?" asked Charles, his bushy brows lowered with annoyance.
"You wouldn't be able to see it, Mother," Elizabeth answered, "if you didn't have the heart
"See what?" shouted Charles.
Lady Grimford blinked into the golden light. Beyond the garden a waterfall cascaded from a
mountain of glittering diamonds to splash into a pool of soothing blue. A winged horse with
golden hooves pranced in a meadow of glittering green, and in the far distance scarlet
banners of fire flew from a castle of gleaming white. She shook her head. "I'd never have
seen this without you. What's it called?"
Elizabeth looked at Treis, then shrugged her shoulders. "It doesn't have a name but the one
you'd give it. The door opens and some of that world spills into ours, although nothing can
stay for long."
Charles's voice cut through their conversation, the tone of it dangerously low. "I will not be
Lydia looked from the shining face of her daughter to the beautifully sculpted face of the
boy. She'd never doubted that he came from the garden. "Then he can't stay with you in our
The dimples faded from Treis's cheeks as he nodded solemnly and gazed at Elizabeth with
desperate longing. Lydia could feel Charles's anger like a tangible thing behind her, ready to
"You cannot go into his world?" she asked quickly.
"Oh, yes!" cried Elizabeth. "But I dare not."
"Because once you go, well, it's not that you can't return to our world--it's just that you
won't want to."
Charles's frustration finally spewed forth. "Bloody Hell! You're both talking nonsense.
Lydia, get up. Elizabeth come here."
Lydia still didn't understand. If her daughter could go to such a place, a place that made her
own world dreary by comparison, why hadn't she gone? Why worry about returning if life
could be so wonderful you wouldn't want to?
"That didn't answer my question, Bethy. Why haven't you gone?"
"Oh, Mother!" laughed Elizabeth. "I couldn't leave you. Whatever would you do without
Lady Grimford felt the pain when her husband grabbed her arm and jerked her to her feet,
but it was a faraway thing compared to her thoughts. In her arrogance, she'd thought she
loved her daughter best, that nothing could match her fierce, overwhelming feelings. Her
throat tightened up and tears burned her eyes.
Her love was nothing compared to her daughter's.
"This place has made you mad," said Charles. "Neither of you will ever come here again--if I
have to lock you both up!"
For a moment Lydia felt a rush of gratitude toward her husband. Yes, lock them away and
then Bethy would still be hers. Absolutely, completely...selfishly hers. Her stomach twisted
when she remembered the pale, gasping girl she had created. Her daughter had sacrificed her
happiness for her mother. Could she do any less?
"Go," whispered Lydia, then louder; "Go!"
Elizabeth frowned in confusion, but Treis smiled and tugged on her hand, leading her
towards that golden opening. The boy stepped through the door, his hand still tightly clasped
with hers. Elizabeth planted her feet before the threshold. "Mother, I can't leave unless you
come with me."
With strength only a mother's love could provide, Lady Grimford twisted free of her
husband's grasp and sped across the clearing.
She flung her arms around Bethy and held her tightly, wishing that she'd never have to let
her go. But she finally stepped back, looked into the smiling face of the most precious thing
in her life, and pushed Elizabeth through the golden door.
Lydia could see her on the other side. A fleeting shadow of concern crossed her daughter's
face, as if she'd misplaced something important then forgot what it was. But Treis called out
to her and she turned towards him, her face glorious with joy. And then they were both
running, through the meadow and towards the castle, the boy only stopping their flight long
enough to pick flowers and twine them in Elizabeth's hair.
"She...she's gone," whispered Charles. "She just vanished!" Something in his voice made
Lydia turn and stare. He ran a trembling hand through thinning gray hair, his back suddenly
bowed with the weight of his years. For the first time since she'd known him, he looked
unsure of himself. "That means--you're not going with her, are you Lydia?"
She felt her eyes widen. He loves me, she thought; in his own strange way, he truly loves
me. She looked at the golden doorway, saw the glow begin to fade, and knew that it would
"Of course not," she replied. "Whatever would you do without me?"
Lydia walked back with Charles through the complicated, sometimes frightening maze of
paths that had led them, eventually, to their hearts.
|Site Design & Written Content (exclusive of quoted material) copyright @ by Kathryne Kennedy, All Rights Reserved
|This short story was written long before I ever imagined the alternate
magical world in ENCHANTING THE LADY. In this story, there are no
established levels of magical power, nor is magic considered real...except
perhaps to those who've had an unusual experience, like Lady Lydia