Together to One
title: Together to One Charles Hartley was an ordinary gentleman of the late nineteenth century. He was by no means a poor man and was never modest about showing off his good fortune. For the wealth that Charles possessed, although inherited from his recently deceased father, he was rather young at only the age of twenty-five. One evening in 1882, Charles was taking a leisurely walk and having a good smoke of his favourite pipe amongst the houses of the eighteenth century in London, as he so often enjoyed doing, when quite out of nowhere, a small object fell in front of him.
"Excuse me, miss!" Charles called in vain, trying to capture the attention of a young lady he had just seen in a window two stories up. It was useless, however, as she had already closed the window and disappeared inside the depths of the house where she certainly could not hear him.
The autumn evening was cloudy and cool, but not cold, with a swift breeze that ran through the streets like a spooked team of horses. He looked down again at the item which she had dropped that now laid on the ground very near him. It fluttered slightly as the wind tried with a great endeavour to move it, but without success. Taking only one step forward and with very little effort, Charles bent down to retrieve the item. He examined it for a quick moment and found that it was a very clean white handkerchief adorned with the initials 'ET'. The two letters were embroidered flawlessly with a dark blue thread in one corner of the cloth. Somewhere near the centre was what appeared to be an ink stain which was the only blemish that it contained.
After a brief moment's thought, Charles resolved to knock on the door of the house so that he may return it to the woman he had seen above. The door was opened almost immediately and to his great surprise, it was not a servant who opened the door, but rather the lady herself.
"Excuse me, ma'am," Charles began politely. "I believe you dropped this." Charles held out the handkerchief for her to take with one hand and took a good puff of his pipe while holding it with the other.
"Oh, thank you," replied the lady as she smiled and took the handkerchief. She was a rather slim young woman who had bright blue eyes and a head full of dark brown hair that was tucked neatly into a white bonnet. She wore a rather old fashioned looking dark brown dress with a white apron. Charles could not help but stare into her brilliant eyes. There was something about them that entranced him, but what he could not imagine. For a moment the two young people stared into each other's eyes without a word. "My name is Elizabeth Talboth," the lady said suddenly, breaking the trance.
"Sorry, I seemed to have wandered into my own thoughts," Charles replied as his cheeks turned bright red and he looked away from her eyes. "I am Charles Hartley." He removed his hat, putting it under one arm and took the pipe from his mouth. Gently, he grabbed hold of Elizabeth's hand and kissed the back of it.
Flattered and blushing, Elizabeth said, "Would you like to come in and have a cup of tea? I was just about have one myself."
"I would love to!" Charles exclaimed and followed Elizabeth into the house. "What a splendid house you have! Is it your father's?"
"No, it is mine. I live here alone."
Charles pondered her statement as he took off his overcoat and looked around. Elizabeth took his overcoat and hat and hung them on a rack near the door specifically designated for such a purpose.
"You live alone? Not even any servants?" asked Charles, pursuing the point.
"How queer! It is not often one finds a woman living alone; especially in a house such as this."
Without answering, Elizabeth showed Charles into the drawing-room and said that she would be back in a moment with tea. She then withdrew from the room, leaving Charles alone. The room was quite large and was decorated with many artefacts from the eighteenth century; presumably possessions of the original owner of the house. The room was quite dusty and one could easily find cobwebs anywhere in the room. It became apparent that she had not entertained guests in quite some time. Elizabeth soon returned carrying a golden tray with a white antique teapot and two cups to match.
"How did you come to possess such a house?" asked Charles, sitting down in one of the many old chairs, ignoring the filth.
"It has been in my family since it was built," answered Elizabeth. "My mother died giving birth to me and my father died when I was fifteen. I was their only heir." Elizabeth looked at the dusty floor for a brief moment, then began to pour the tea.
"I am so sorry to hear that. But don't you keep any servants?"
"No, I live here alone. I don't need any."
Charles thought this statement particularly odd. Elizabeth certainly must have had the means with which she could easily afford servants and judging by the amount of filth in the room, it was obvious that she needed their services desperately. Charles thought about his own house. He too lived alone, however, he lived with the company of a butler and two servants. It was not easy for him to imagine life without such services at his disposal.
Charles took a sip of his tea. "Elizabeth, tell me what you do then here alone."
Elizabeth took a seat and answered matter-of-factly, "I write."
"What sort of writing do you do?" Charles took another sip of tea and looked again into Elizabeth's eyes. They were such a fascinating spectacle to be withheld! The bright blue iris that surrounded the pitch black pupil almost seemed to be moving like restless water in the open ocean during the peak of a strong storm. Only this water was glowing brightly with a brilliant radiance like that of the shallow water surrounding a tropical island; only Charles would not have known that -- he had never left England.
"I write poetry, mostly," Elizabeth replied and smiled. She then took a sip of her tea.
"Pardon me? I am sorry, I was off in my own thoughts again, I am afraid," Charles said, unable to look away from Elizabeth.
"I write poetry."
"Poetry? That sounds fascinating!" Charles said, trying to conceal his indifference.
"Yes, poetry. I have been writing poetry since I was first able to write, although admittedly, in the beginning without the sort of sophistication one might associate with poetry. But I suppose everyone has to start somewhere." Elizabeth took another sip of her tea.
"I should like to read some of this poetry of yours, Elizabeth," Charles said, still unable to remove his gaze from her eyes. "That is, of course, if you don't mind."
Elizabeth blushed. Smiling, she answered, "Of course I don't. Although, I must confess that I do not believe anyone has ever read my poetry before. I mostly just keep it to myself."
"Ah, but what is the point of writing, if there is no one to read it?" Charles took a sip of tea.
"There is always the hope that someone charming may come along, like in my poems," Elizabeth answered bashfully and took another sip of tea. After a brief pause, she added, "Charles, I think I would like to be you."
Taking absolutely no notice of her last comment, Charles continued to stare into Elizabeth's hypnotic eyes. The two sat in awkward silence for a while. Then, quite suddenly changing the topic of conversation, the two young people continued to converse for quite some time.
As the sunlight completely dwindled in the West, Elizabeth rose from her seat to make a fire in the large old fashioned fireplace. Although three hours had already passed and they had finished their tea, neither one of them had risen from their seats. Outside the wind was noisy as ever and a slow fog had begun to creep its way along the desolate street.
Charles watched Elizabeth carefully. He was mesmerised by her seemingly unnatural elegance and it seemed to him that he could almost make out a glow emanating from her very body.
He also rose from his seat and quite suddenly said, "Thank you for such a pleasant evening, Elizabeth, but I am afraid I must be on way now. It is already dark outside and I have business I must attend to before the day is through."
Elizabeth turned away from the newly created fire to face Charles. "Before you go, would you like to read one of my poems?"
A dark, almost tangible feeling crept over Charles like a thousand spiders crawling all over his body. There was something in the way she spoke these last words that sent a chill tumbling down his spine. He shuddered and hesitated, but out of sheer courtesy and due to his prior commitment, he replied, "One of your poems? Oh yes, I would love to."
Leaving the fire as it was, Elizabeth took Charles' hand and led him back into the foyer, then up the main staircase. Every step they took squeaked and echoed throughout the dark dusty house. As they approached the top of the staircase, Charles squinted to see in the darkness, but could not see anything. As soon as they had reached the landing, they paused while Elizabeth lit a candle that was on a small wooden table adorned with a large red cloth. With the dim light of the candle, he managed to see that there were four closed doors surrounding the landing. Elizabeth led him to one of them and opened it. He followed her into a musty bedroom full of furniture covered by white covers. The bed had four posts, all of which were bare, and a very dirty mattress. The room itself was not particularly large and had a hideous worn yellow wallpaper that covered the upper half of the walls. The lower half was covered with a dark wooden panelling.
Elizabeth led Charles to a small vanity with a chair and a mirror standing in the corner opposite the door. There she lit another candle that stood on the left side of the desk, then set the other one on the right side. She turned around to face Charles, who stood behind her watching her. She kissed his cheek, then, stepping out of his way, beckoned him to sit down in the chair. As he took a seat, Charles looked at Elizabeth's reflection in the mirror. Her wild blue eyes were glowing more ferociously than before. As he stared into her eyes, utterly transfixed by their beauty, it occurred to him that it could be the darkness or perhaps the dancing light emanating from the two candles on the vanity that made them so bright and beautiful, but his instinct told him otherwise. His eyes were locked to hers and there was nothing he could do about it. Suddenly, Elizabeth broke the spell releasing Charles and giving him the freedom to once again look where he pleased.
"Oh, I am so sorry!" she said, breaking the silence and looking bashful. Her cheeks probably turned red, but in the darkness of the room, it was impossible to tell.
"No, no, it is quite alright." Charles smiled as he said this, but refused to even look at her reflection.
"I do not want to keep you long, I will get one of my poems for you," Elizabeth said and pranced off into the darkness.
Charles looked up and saw on the vanity something quite familiar. He reached over and picked it up. Slowly unfolding it, he noticed the thick layer of dust that had accumulated on top of it. It was a white handkerchief with the initials 'ET' embroidered in blue thread in one corner and an ink stain in the centre. Charles stared at it a moment, puzzled. Then from behind him came the footsteps of Elizabeth returning to the room. Charles quickly refolded the handkerchief and put it back where he had found it.
"I found my favourite poem for you!" Elizabeth exclaimed happily as she entered the room. "I really do hope you like it." She walked over to Charles and handed him a sheet of paper. The paper was surprisingly yellow and brittle. A poem, entitled "Together to One", was written on the paper in beautifully ornate archaic handwriting. With Elizabeth standing behind him looking over his should, Charles began to read.
Condemn our heart
Our mind our body
Cannot be torn 'part
We lovers together
Are one alone
To go whither
Charles glanced up and looked at Elizabeth's reflection in the mirror. She was staring at him fiercely through her intense bright blue eyes. Elizabeth smiled at him, then put a hand on his shoulder. He shuddered once more as a chill sprang up his spine, then continued to read.
Our souls must march
Charles began to feel a tingling sensation coming from somewhere deep in his body. Taking immediate notice, he tried to pry his eyes away from the poem, but found he could not. The hand on his should had become very heavy.
Bound to each other
He could feel his insides shifting and he felt a sensation as though his very frame was getting smaller. Parts of himself began to disappear while other parts took their place. He could feel his well fitted clothing beginning to hang loosely from his body. His eyes began to burn greatly.
Not one false moment
His chest was getting heavy. Two bulges began protruding through his shirt. On the nape of his neck, he could feel his hair growing rapidly. Memories of well before his time began to flow through his mind freely. Charles tried desperately to look up at himself in the mirror, but was still unable to tear his attention from the poem he held in his now feminine hands.
As one is forever
Charles suddenly looked up. In the mirror, a woman with a pair of brilliant bright blue eyes stared back. He did not have to read the rest of the poem. He found he already knew it.