Catherine and René’s life quickly fell into a rhythm. René would travel or lock himself in his study, while Catherine took care of their home. They would spend time together in the mornings and evenings. Catherine generally did as she pleased, always making sure to steer clear of René’s study. It was one of the few things he asked, saying he was meticulously organized. He didn’t want anything or anyone interrupting his work. René dismissed any servant that did so quickly, no one knew they were leaving until they were gone, and they never came back.
Catherine sat in the morning room, composing a letter to her family while contemplating the situation. Logically she knew René couldn’t send her away as he did the house employees, but she didn’t enjoy making him angry. Staying out of his study was easy enough; why wouldn’t she do so? Catherine generally busied herself around the house, and if that failed to keep her occupied she slipped into the sun parlor to read. Especially on days when René left and Catherine had no company. Most of the household staff were skittish around her, and the estate was far enough away from the nearest town that Catherine had not made any friends besides René. Normally not a problem unless he was away for weeks at a time, leaving Catherine alone with her thoughts. Which is where she was now.
René was away again. Catherine was starting to feel very alone – she wasn’t unhappy, she just wished she had someone when René was away. But Catherine was afraid to mention it. She had once, and it instigated their first argument. She paused in her writing, thinking back on that day, that argument.
When René informed her he would be leaving for yet another business trip, Catherine told him of her intention to visit her family while he was gone. René said she couldn’t go – the roads weren’t safe and she had plenty to occupy herself. When Catherine pointed out that she, of course, wouldn’t travel alone and wouldn’t be missed, René got that now familiar cold light in his eyes. He forbade her from going, saying he didn’t want to hear about it again. At that point, the servants were staring.
Maybe I should have known better, Catherine thought. But at the time she lost her temper.
Catherine defiantly shook her head. “René, this makes no sense. I-”
She wasn’t sure what happened, but Catherine found herself wrenched from the room, René’s hand like a vice around her arm. He dragged her to their room, keeping her off balance, and let her go once they were alone. Catherine was unprepared for the sudden stop, and her momentum cause her to fall, twisting her ankle.
“I said no, Catherine. That should be enough for you.”
The click of the door shutting behind René as he left was the only sound besides the ticking of the pocket watch that had fallen from his pocket. It had been a gift from Catherine.
Catherine shook herself out of her reverie and finished her letter. That was weeks ago; there’s no point in dwelling on it, she told herself. He’s acted much better. René had been very apologetic – he seemed to feel awful about how he behaved and how he had accidentally hurt Catherine’s ankle. It had healed, and their relationship was currently on even ground, but Catherine still hadn’t returned the pocket watch. Regardless of his apologies, nothing changed. She still felt so… Isolated.
Having signed her letter, Catherine took it to the housekeeper to post. She then found herself wandering the halls, unsure of what to do with herself. She went to the sun parlor and picked up the journal. Perhaps it would make her feel less alone. She flipped to a page near the end of the journal and started reading.
I can’t believe how many mistakes I’ve made. Robert was never interested in helping me. I just found out that everything I’ve done for him in the past months, every favor I’ve returned, was all to ruin Daniel’s family. I don’t understand why he hates them so much – I know part of it is financial. Somehow Robert made a lot of money off destroying our lives. But he seems to be too vindictive for that to be his only motive. What he told me to do today… Well, I can’t. Some lines can’t be crossed. He said if I don’t he’ll ruin my life. He said he would make sure everyone found out it was my fault our lives have gone so wrong, my fault we lost everything. He even threatened to hurt my father if I don’t do it, but I can’t hurt Daniel’s parents. I wish I had never met that evil man! I don’t know what to do. I can’t do what he wants, but he terrifies me.
Catherine ran her fingers down the tear-splotched page. The young woman’s hands had shaken as she wrote the passage, making her desperation obvious. Catherine flipped through the pages, thinking about the young woman, and started at the sight of another entry. It was much further into the book than the others, as if the young woman opened to a random page. There was no date.
Robert followed through on all his threats. My father is missing. Someone else managed to get to Daniel’s parents. They’re gone too. Daniel knows it’s my fault. There’s nothing I can do.
Catherine stared at the last sentence in shock, a tremor running down her spine. She was beginning to feel the same.
Continue to Part Four
Author’s Note: In this section Catherine is learning that not everything in her new life is quite what she wanted. I took a lot of artistic license with this part of the story because in the original Bluebeard tale, the time period immediately following the wedding is glossed over. I wanted to use this to show a different side of René. In the journal, this is the part that has the least to do with the original two fairy tales. The Cinderella story ends shortly after the wedding, so I didn’t have any source story to draw from. In the Rumpelstiltskin tale, however, after the wedding is when the imp calls in his debt. He asks for the new queen’s firstborn child, but in this story Robert is instead asking for information to ruin the family business (mostly because I couldn’t think of any was the firstborn child part would make sense). I left it up to the reader to decide what they thought his motives were – the young woman in the story never really found out. The other big change from the Rumpelstiltskin story is that, in the original version, there is a happy ending where the young queen beats Rumpelstiltskin at his own game, which obviously doesn’t happen here.
The hardest part of writing this section was deciding how far to have René go. I was trying to get across to the reader that this is the beginning of an emotionally abusive relationship, without Catherine really noticing. Isolation is a big part of that, and often the first thing that occurs in that type of relationship. I wanted people to be able to see how René is trying to make Catherine dependent on him emotionally, beyond what is normal for a husband and wife.
“Bluebeard” by Charles Perrault. Website: Dan Ashliman’s Folktexts
“Cinderella” by Charles Perrault. Website: Dan Ashliman’s Folktexts
“Rumpelstiltskin” by the Brothers Grimm. Website: Dan Ashliman’s Folktexts
Psychological Abuse. Wikipedia.
Image: Silver Sk Pocket Watch. Source: Pexels