Northanger Abbey Revisited: Chapter 18

Catherine’s homecoming, I learned later, was less shocking than she anticipated. Her parents were surprised she hadn’t alerted them by messenger or letter that she was coming. They were shocked that she made the journey without a companion or a plan. They were offended that the Thebleys let her go so abruptly.

But the family is not one for histrionics. Catherine’s mother, Judith, listened to her daughter’s woos, including her emphatic statement that it was Rex, not Henry or Antione who sent her away. Henry and Antione were excused entirely from any kind of complicity. Catherine refrained, impressively enough, from the most Gothic of her imaginings.

Even shorn of drama, the Morland parents concluded that Rex Thebley was an eccentric man of strange habits and strange, uncivil manners. Judith Morland listened, empathized, and then instructed her daughter, “You had quite the adventurous summer! Well, well, time to move on.”

Fall was nearing. Catherine attended school as a teacher’s aide. Olympus applauds education though anything past high school takes place under Athena and Apollo’s guidance or in the other world. Catherine would likely continue to teach the equivalent of third graders up to and after her marriage. She would bring goods and skills to a marriage.

She went to work without complaint. Her heartbreak didn’t take the form of shrieks at the universe or sorrowful collapses onto conveniently placed fainting couches. She didn’t sequester herself in her bedroom or take to writing (bad) poetry. She went to school and helped eight-year-olds figure out division. She painted wooden toys carved by her father. She sewed more hand puppets.

She did wallow in lots of walks on the nearby, rocky beaches. And she did spend a great many afternoons gazing out the front window of the house's parlor. He mother worried that Catherine’s few weeks of “high living” had created unrealistic expectations about day-to-day life. Judith is a busy woman—always a dozen projects going in various venues—but she broken away from childcare and breadmaking and community theater to search out an article about mindfulness or something self-improvement-oriented for Catherine’s perusal.

And then Henry arrived.

Catherine had been to see the Allens. They knew the story of Catherine’s sudden departure from The Keep, and Mrs. Allen meandered on about how pleasant the Thebley children were but, well, that father! Handsome, of course. And well-to-do. But such strange manners!

Catherine didn’t find Mrs. Allen’s vague expostulations all that comforting and moped her way home (Oreithyia and Boreas supplied the report of Catherine’s return home and subsequent encounters; the weather gods were prepping for the winter months).

Catherine came into the house, ready to slog through several chores. And there was Henry, looking as bashful as a young man face-to-face with potential in-laws can look.

“I was concerned about you,” he said, dividing his attention between Catherine and her mother, who looked surprised but not displeased at the appearance of this polite young man. “I wanted to make sure Catherine reached home safely.”

No one mentioned that a messenger, such as Hermes, or a letter, through Hermes’s people, would have accomplished the same end. Judith was too curious, and Catherine was too pleased.

“Would you care for something to eat?” Judith asked. “I can fetch my husband, and we can eat a late lunch together. Or perhaps—”

“I should pay my respects to the Allens,” Henry said.

It is doubtful that Henry remembered anything more about the Allens than Mrs. Allen’s name. But it was a decent enough excuse, especially when he asked Catherine to show him the way. One of her younger sisters offered to join them while Judith pondered if perhaps they should visit the beach or the schoolhouse as well. Henry and Catherine managed to escape without the accompaniment of family onlookers.

Away from the house, Catherine and Henry temporarily put off the Allens and instead meandered to one of my shrines. In that area of Olympus, the shrine is a small, pillared structure that graces the flat stretch near Kettle Cove. Like in the other Cape Elizabeth, the area is spotted with picnic tables. Henry and Catherine strolled between them. At the water’s edge, they bent to collect rocks to skip.

Henry apologized. He explained his father’s assumptions about Catherine’s supposed wealth. Catherine may be innocent. She had no trouble connecting the source of many of her troubles to John Thorpe. She sighed, but with Henry's reappearance, John Thorpe ceased to be a bane of existence and became a mere irritant. 

Henry then professed his feelings of attachment.

“I like you, Catherine. Do you like me? I sound like a kid in school. Check Box 1 or 2. So which would you check?”

Cleverness and bashfulness combined—not an unattractive combination, and Catherine responded with enough pleased enthusiasm to overcome Henry’s self-consciousness. She checked the “yes” box! Henry was relieved. They visited the Allens, partly to fulfill a social obligation but mostly, I guessed, to go somewhere, be somewhere, as a “couple.”

The next step was to request my endorsement, and Henry and Catherine did leave donations at the shrine. Henry had optimistically come prepared with quartz crystals. Catherine left ribbons from her hair. And of course, they both visited my temple on the peninsula much later.

The reality is, most people go to their family and friends first when a meeting-of-the-minds ensues. Catherine and Henry announced their new status at the Morland family dinner that night.

“I would like to court your daughter,” Henry said.

“Henry and I got to know each other this summer,” Catherine said.

“How nice,” Judith said dampeningly. “Catherine’s father and I believe in long engagements.”

Richard Morland nodded. He and his wife were rarely on opposing sides when it came to their children’s futures.

Richard Morland said, “How about your father, Henry?”

“He’ll come around,” Henry said stoutly.

The Morland parents nodded. As Richard pointed out later to Judith in one of Hermes’s shrines, “That young man carries out most of his family’s business. Negotiations and what-not. I’m sure the father will follow his son’s lead.”

Hermes laughed when he told me about the conversation, and I could guess why. The Morland parents arrived on Olympus full of Greek stories and abstracted desires and philosophical applause for nature and so on and so forth. Nine years living on a farm burnt away the impracticalities, left behind warm and usable embers.

Marriage to the son of a well-established family, so long as the father didn’t put up obstacles or noisy protests, was a decent enough reason to flame the embers. Such was the Morland parents’ position. Henry and Catherine would make a similarly proper Olympian couple.

Not that I ignored the melodramatic sparks—but of course, I had more of the story, more even than Catherine and Henry individually. If John Thorpe hadn’t lied and exaggerated, Rex Thebley never would have invited Catherine to stay. Her relationship with Henry wouldn’t have expanded and stabilized. For that matter, Rex Thebley would never have learned the “truth” and thrown Catherine out of the house. If not for Rex Thebley’s bad behavior, his laid-back son might never have declared himself.

The moral seems to be, Even John Thorpes have their uses.

Too cynical. Perhaps the moral is, True love gets the embers burning.

For the embers were there. Neither Henry nor Catherine was thinking wedding-marriage-homelife-children-burial plots. Not in that moment and place: at the end of summer in a town in Olympus. Henry and Catherine were simply, delightfully thrilled to declare mutual desire for each other’s company.

They were, as the other world would say, Dating.

 Below: good scene but not accurate!

Northanger Abbey Revisited: Chapter 17

I reached The Keep that afternoon. Hermes was gratified by my wrath at someone else (for a change) and dragged a motorized vehicle out of his temple’s storeroom. I made the trip in under an hour.

I encountered Henry in The Keep’s foyer.

“I know,” he said in answer to my frown. “I know. I can’t believe what my dad did. You’ve got to understand, I wasn’t here. I was in the middle of overseeing a shipment of clay. And Antione was probably right to send Catherine home. Dad would have fussed at her otherwise. But it was wrong, what he did. I know.”

“Catherine isn’t an heiress.”

“Yeah. So I gather. I thought she was, you know. I didn’t know about the Allens. But I figured, my dad wouldn’t be pushing her on me if she wasn’t. Yeah, my dad told me what John Thorpe said. The idiot. Idiots. If I’d known—but I didn’t. I just assumed my father knew something about Catherine’s family, some advantage. Ignoring my father’s machinations is a habit. I convinced myself that Catherine was Antione’s friend. At first.”

“What are your intentions now?”

“What do you think? I’m attached to Catherine.”

“Because you pursued her so diligently,” I said dryly.

“Well, no.” Henry looked abashed. “But she likes me. That’s kind of amazing, right?”

A little of my tension washed away. All three siblings have careers—soldier, negotiator, lawyer—but the expectations of wealth are hard to shake off. Henry might not care about goods and status on paper. He might care a great deal about them in reality.

“I make a good living,” Henry said instead. “Hephaestus wants me to help other stoneworkers with their donations and negotiations. I’ve got something to offer.”

“The Morlands live comfortably,” I said since Catherine as poor supplicant wasn’t my idea of a successful marriage any more than Catherine as Lady Bountiful.

“Yeah. I got a letter from Eddie. He was apologetic, for once. And he found out more stuff. He should work for Hermes. The Morlands have been on Olympus since Catherine was ten. They own a decent-size farm. They have enough they can hire workers.”

“Worthy family,” I said echoing Rex Thebley.

“Yeah,” Henry said. “So, my dad has nothing to complain about. I’m going to visit the Morlands, see Catherine, and explain.”

Out on the front drive, he eyed my moped wistfully, but he’d never ridden one. Instead, he pedaled his bike out through the gate. He was heading for the local posting house. I continued inside.

I found Rex Thebley pacing the dining room, back and forth on the rug between the long table and the outer wall. He glowered at me before he remembered his manners and gave me a short bow. I leaned in the wide, arched doorway and stuck my hands in my pockets.  

“Our family’s reputation—” he growled.

“Is harmed more by Eddie’s carelessness than anything Henry has ever done.”

“The dating scene these days—it leaves a lot to be desire, you must admit. All these young people hoping for an easy living.”

He wasn’t entirely wrong. I vetted Antione’s soldier before I agreed to the engagement. Jason isn't looking to live off Thebley largesse. Isabella, on the other hand, is clearly seeking for anything that will keep her from the hard slog of the rest of her life.

I said mildly (the wrathful god stuff wears me out), “Perhaps they want the same chances as you got when you moved into The Keep.”

He eyed me suspiciously. I smiled blandly back.

He said huffily, “We moved in during the worst of The Chaos. After Eros closed the gate. And Josie was pregnant with Eddie. We moved in. We put up the fence. Our workers were safe.”

“Standing empty, was it?”

Now Rex smiled and stretched out his hands. He was giving me his bonhomous persona.

He said, “We had the means to improve it. We built shrines and prayed for better days. We made offerings.”

“Items you brought from the other world. In truckloads?”

Citizens can bring belongings to Olympus. The amount is limited. After all, bring too much and the gods won’t need to be petitioned. If Rex arrived when Olympus’s natural laws were being “re-examined,” the rules about “stuff” might have been ignored.

Silence. Rex glowered and stomped one foot. He was an edge away from losing his temper.

But the current gods of Olympus—upstarts or not—are still gods. I had ways and means of making Rex regret his temper. If he did wish to marry again, I could deny the application. He could, of course, shack-up with someone, but marriages create social networks on Olympus; they get tied to deals and trades. If I so desired, the warm and fuzzy feelings Hermes asked about might waft their way to the Thebley’s competition.

And there were worse punishments: workers so love-sick they ceased to do their jobs; Rex so smitten he handed an opportunistic widow his property; Rex’s children convinced to search for love in the other world.

Pandemonium. And I would need Kouros’s agreement. Other than “god of agriculture,” his other hat is “Eros.”

He would likely not agree. Natural law. Freewill. Choice. And so on. But the Eros, by disposition, is incalculable, even ruthless. And Kouros has been known to challenge the rules.

Nothing is certain, especially not love. I let Rex stew on that reality.

He said with forced affability, “We settled in Woodston, the Thebley seat. True, we arrived with a great many things. The Hermes of that time was far more accommodating. When we arrived, the gods were just beginning to experiment with natural law. They had a point. But they took it too far.”

The ultimate politician’s argument. It would have worked—if only—

“When The Keep emptied, we moved in. We paid our dues, even though the new gods hadn’t yet come.”

I suppose that was a poke at me. I shrugged. I waited for more of Rex’s justifications.

“We’ve lived up to the Thebley name,” Rex pronounced and gave me a sideways glance.

If I knew about The Keep’s change in ownership, I likely knew the Thebley genealogy.

I said genially, “The Thebley name has a long history.”

Rex deflated and collapsed into a chair. I didn’t smirk. Venus, I maintain, is the civilized, kindly side of love, not the kind that blasts people into atoms. Even when the Venus holds contests and makes demands, those acts take place within the community—visible space. I make my intentions known.

Leave all the dark, unknowable, unspeakable, chaotic Freudian stuff to older gods.

I said, “Catherine is a sweet girl. Her family is worthy, as you stated to Miss Thorpe. Henry cares for her. She is willing to join your family, support your family business.”

She also has a forgiving nature.

Rex grumbled, “A destitute bride. I got the truth out of that Thorpe boy.”

I let him hear my ponderous sigh.

I said, “Catherine turned down John Thorpe. He exaggerated once. It didn’t occur to you that he might exaggerate again?”

He pouted.

I said gently, “Josie would like her.”

He looked away from me then and glared at the opposite wall. Rex is not as tunnel-visioned as Thorpe. He knew he was a better man when Josie was alive and a continual presence in his life.

I set the recorder from Kouros and Hades on the end of the long table and set it going.

Josie’s voice emerged, tinged with its usual affability: “Rex respects the Thebley name. The area around Woodston does well in part due to our quarries. Rex employs a great many people. With Henry’s help, of course. And Antione’s legal acumen. Eddie keeps them all safe. We aren’t a perfect family. Just a family.”

I let the tape run out. At the end of the room, Rex wiped his eyes. No grand display of loss and sorrow, his gesture was still more passion than Catherine could currently comprehend.

This moment was Rex and Josie’s. Catherine and Henry would have to find their own moment.

Northanger Abbey Revisited: Chapter 16

The gods hold a meeting directly before Thesmophoria. The given reason is to manage the festival’s logistics, since Thesmophoria—and the market that follows—is one of the largest festivals on Olympus, followed only by Kouros’s return from Tartarus in the spring.

In truth, the meeting is a way for Zeus and Hera to assert their authority regarding a festival that is all about agriculture. Official sanctions, timetables, and whatnot.

We are not a strict twelve. Since Hestia and Hephaestus rarely attend, and Kouros and Hades do, we usually end up with twelve gods anyway.

Kouros and Hades were talking when I walked in, which meant that the outside sky had clouded over and cold rain was pouring down. They weren’t in contact, so no hail or flurries. The farmers wouldn’t thank Kouros for an early frost before the harvest was over. The no-touching-before-winter discipline isn’t easy, but both Kouros and Hades are a “working couple.” Two project-leader types with their own careers: vegetation and death.

Hades lifted his chin as I approached. Kouros turned his head.

Elysium
“Oh, yeah,” Kouros said with a slow smile. “Hermes told us what you wanted. Hades spoke to Josie. She likes what she’s heard about Catherine. So the union has got the mother’s blessing.”

I nodded, pleased. I thought the Thebleys would be lucky to get Catherine as a wife and in-law. Glad to know Josie concurred.

Hades handed over a small tape recorder. “You can hear her thoughts about the Thebley family directly. New batteries. Hermes promised.”

“Yeah, right.” I took the tape recorder, hefted it in one hand.

I said, “Does Josie have an opinion about her husband’s latest behavior? His ejection of Catherine from The Keep?”

“I try not to burden my subjects with the tribulations of the living,” Hades said mildly.

Kouros said, “After all, she is dead.”

I sighed. Kouros and Hades are both dedicated to natural outcomes, but Kouros is more emphatic. Once he made the decision to follow Hades’s lead, he never looked back. Thems the rules.

Hades is more philosophical. He prefers natural outcomes because in a world of a thousand possible outcomes, natural outcomes are, at the very least, fair. They may be random, but they are random for everyone.

Death, like romance, doesn’t take intent and virtue and desire into account. People die before their time. And people stay unattached despite all efforts to the contrary.

Maybe the rules of death can be circumvented—on Olympus, at least. But romance involves other people. Force Eddie’s or Henry’s heart towards a particular (and no doubt deserving) lover—was the outcome any fairer than leaving everyone to suffer alone?

If I left well enough alone, didn’t intervene, would Catherine (or Henry) even lose out? Wouldn’t Catherine simply marry another sweet-natured young man? Might she be happier, especially if the second sweet-natured young man had a less volatile father? In the future, when she gave her own daughter advice, might she mention Henry in a fond but not at all depressed or maudlin way?

Maybe. Maybe not. And I wasn’t a god of external nature, trees and grains and whatnot. I was a god of internal wishes and pains and fierce desires. If I could intercede—

I said to Kouros, “On Olympus, opinions can still be solicited from the dead. You might practice aggressive inaction but Hades—”

“He’s a soft touch,” Kouros said fondly.

Hades laughed without umbrage.

He said, “Josie thinks Rex will come round. More sound and fury than a commitment to a specific course of action. And he likes the comfort of family members within reach. He won’t force an estrangement.”

Yes. Antione and Henry might find their father exasperating. They still spent time in his company.

“Thank you,” I said to the gods of death and life.

Crossing to my seat in the meeting chamber, I nodded to the god of thieves who had approached Kouros and Hades on my behalf.

Hermes grinned. Doubtless, he counted the recorder as worth yet another favor. I couldn’t disagree. The dead receive messages but rarely send them. Olympus doesn’t encourage seances and such by citizens. Gods are the intermediaries.

Well, I was one, and now, I had Josie’s own words.

What Josie had to say was that the Thebley family went back to the nineteenth century.

The Chaos naturally wiped out a great many records. But carvings at the local shrines indicate that a Thebley husband and wife arrived circa 1860. They had a son, Orlando—I located a record in Hestia’s temple. Orlando and his father departed to the other world when the boy was ten. After I sacrificed a dozen quilts at Hermes’s altar, he tracked down records in the other world. Or he hired a genealogist.

Based on what he found, Thebley father and son arrived in the other world at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Family and neighbors assumed the father had been at war or in America. He probably thought the same—conflated his memories of Olympus with a journey elsewhere.

His son, Orlando, returned to Olympus when he was twenty. Hermes keeps tab on all ex-citizens and often offers them the choice again. The Hermes back then, at least.

The Hermes now would probably request a deposit before he re-shared information about “Shangri-la.”

Josie continued, her level voice suffused with good humor:

When Orlando returned to Olympus, he went looking for family members. He had to ask a great many questions to track them down. But he found his mother and his step-siblings. His mother had married again, and her second husband died, so Orlando moved in—to help out. A local shrine manager spread rumors about the son sleeping with the mother, but the man was likely simply being malicious. Orlando certainly knew the identity of the other people in the house. Unfortunately, the mother couldn’t stand the nasty gossip. She returned to the other world with two of the children. That was 1890 or so.

Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, in which Oedipus plays a major role, came out in 1899. The tale of Oedipus is older than Freud, of course. Renaissance painters were equally obsessed though they tended to focus on the confrontation with the Sphinx as opposed to the incest with the mother.

Yet the mother of our Oedipus certainly objected to the second part of the story or, at least, to related rumors. Those who return to the other world mostly forget, but they remember bits and pieces. And they dream.

Did Orlando’s mother encounter Freud? Pass on her vague, unsettled beliefs about her family situation? Did the tale fuel Freud or did Freud fuel events here?

Orlando did go blind later in life. Asclepius can help with many things, but we are still mortal, susceptible to frailties and illnesses. Orlando never married. The fact is—there are no Thebley descendants on Olympus.

I gaped at the tape recorder. I gaped at Eirene and Eunomia and Astraea who were listening with me. Josie’s voice continued without any indication that she was shocking the pants off a god:

Remaining Thebley descendants departed before Eros closed the gate during the Chaos. In fact, I suspect they left several generations earlier. But the new occupants of The Keep called themselves “the Thebleys.” When Olympus’s city changed, the landscape altered as did the exterior of the house—from villa to townhouse to ranch house. It was a ranch house with older parts when my husband traded for it. Thebley is best thought of as a title.

“A borrowed title is not what Rex Thebley advertises,” Astraea said, her mouth quirking.

“No,” I said and clicked off the recorder. “It isn’t. He prefers the fable of direct genetic inheritance.”

A short silence. Then, Astraea gave off peals of laughter. Eunomia joined her. I shook my head and forbore banging my head on the table.

“Henry can’t even offer Catherine the protection of his good name,” Eirene said with a shake of her head.

If he offers,” I said tartly.

“He didn’t know about Catherine being sent away. He does now. Antione left him a note.”

Eunomia broke off chuckling to say earnestly, “I have to apologize, Ven. I’m the one who requested that Antione attend the hearing on Acharnae coal.”

“About twenty defendants and nearly as many plaintiffs,” Astraea added.

“I didn’t think Antione leaving would be a problem. I assumed Catherine and Henry were, uh, getting better acquainted.”

“She’s seventeen,” I said, which meant something to me and to Eirene; hardly anything at all to Eunomia and Astraea.

Gods and Olympian citizens from the late twentieth century have somewhat different mores than gods and citizens from earlier times.

“She’s still figuring herself out,” I added, which everyone present could understand.

And I realized that I was angry, actually angry. Maybe not slam a lightning bolt through someone’s ribcage angry. But definitely chain-someone-to-a-rock-and-yell-at-them pissed-off. Catherine was a kid, a good kid. She deserved better than getting embroiled in fall-out from Rex Thebley’s entitled beliefs about his family’s just desserts.

I rose.

“What are you going to do?” Eunomia said.

“My job,” I said and went off to put a mortal in his place.

Northanger Abbey Revisited: Chapter 15

Catherine was enjoying herself at The Keep, sans the Thebley father. Henry was biking between his cottage and The Keep nearly every day. Antione was making strides on sorting through her mother’s things “because you’re here with me, Catherine,” which compliment pleased Catherine to no end. Halcyon days.

Granted, Catherine had been hurt that her “best-est” friend from earlier that summer was supposedly skedaddling with another man. She was more appalled when she learned that there was no second engagement. Catherine is a generous soul. In some corner of her mind, I think she was prepared to forgive decisions made in the throes of love. Isabella did what she did because she and Eddie are soulmates.

Not so. Isabella wrote Catherine with many of the same arguments that Isabella tried on me. Would Catherine contact James and remind him of Isabella's affection? Isabella missed him and Catherine so much. She was so bored on the peninsula with its insipid visitors and dreary festivals. If only Catherine would figure out why James was so upset.

“I’m ashamed I didn’t see her shallowness earlier,” Catherine told Antione.

Ouch. But a sincere moralist like Catherine would have difficulties with the grays of self-serving immaturity.

Antione was readier to recognize Isabella as a floundering ex-college student with no real aim in life and a head full of substanceless patter—Antione said as much to Henry. But she wouldn’t wish Isabella’s friendship on anyone, so she solemnly consoled Catherine with moderated agreement.

Catherine received the letter before Rex Thebley returned to The Keep. After supposedly terminating Eddie's engagement, he had various business matters to handle while he was on the peninsula. Afterwards, he visited a quarry up north. He planned to oust the ladder-climbing viper from his household as soon as he arrived home.

And he did.

I didn’t anticipate Catherine’s ejection. I was still waiting to hear back from Hermes. It never occurred to me that Rex would be quite so ruthless.

My bad. Bad omniscient god.

Multiple people later gave me the low-down on the confrontation. Hermes. Damia. Peitho. Thalia, who looks after local town shindigs. They collected much of their information from the servants.

A day before the ejection, Antione received a summons to argue a suit in a town to the north. She and Catherine had finished packing up Josie’s clothes. Antione arranged to have them transported to Hermes’ temple on the peninsula. Hermes receives his own offerings. He also distributes goods between various gods.

The messenger arrived with news of the hearing. Antione reviewed the paperwork and agreed to the request.

“The matter will take a few days,” she told Catherine.

She arranged for Catherine to stay in her apartment in town. Catherine was as trepidatious and delighted as any teen permitted to "live alone" for the first time. Granted, she could have stayed at Henry’s cottage. But the relationship had not yet reached that degree of ease—or intimacy.

Catherine packed her clothes and various mementos from the visit, including items she traded for in town: clay pots, which the area specializes in; marbles for her siblings; a watercolor of the covered bridge.

She would have heard Rex Thebley enter the house, would have heard the door slam, would have heard his outraged, slightly peevish voice—the tone, if not the words.

The servants overheard what he said to Antione. “Your friend has stayed too long. It is time for her to go.”

“Dad—”

“I’ve had enough of freeloaders. She has a home. She should reacquaint herself with it.”

“She was going to stay in town—”

“As a permanent lodger? Her parents will want her back eventually. Send her back.”

Antione was flummoxed. “I couldn’t fathom what changed my dad’s mind about Catherine,” she told me much later. “Neither Henry nor I knew about Catherine’s lack of a fortune.”

“Eddie knew.”

“Oh, Eddie. He knows people—other soldiers, their acquaintances, their connections. When Eddie stops being a soldier, if he ever does, he’ll live off his friends. Henry and I assumed Catherine was well-off in some way. My father wouldn’t have encouraged the visit otherwise. He is—well, you know what he is.”

I did. My approval of Antione’s engagement to her non-wealthy soldier had disgruntled Rex Thebley. He attempted on several occasions to change her mind. But Antione had already moved out by then, so his lectures carried little weight.

Henry’s lifestyle, unfortunately, is more tied to the Thebley family business. I could always find him another job, but Henry likes his work, and he's good at it.

If necessary, I suppose I could have asked (bargained with) Hermes to sit Rex Thebley down and explain in detail how much Henry’s negotiation skills help maintain Rex’s position.

But all bargaining begins with knowledge and right then, I was waiting to find out more about the Thebley family history.

Antione went slowly upstairs to the guest room. She could have still sent Catherine to stay in her lodgings, but she knew the case she was arguing could likely take more than a few days. Her father was entirely capable of pressuring Catherine to leave Woodston on his own. Shouldn’t a young lady like you attend to her parents? I’m sure your duties call you home. Catherine would never withstand the implication that she had overstayed her welcome.

“I thought it best if I sent her home,” Antione told me.

“There’s been a change in plans,” she told Catherine. “I’m so sorry—family obligations.”

Catherine was far too courteous—and diffident—to protest. She and Antione packed up the rest of Catherine’s belongings. Antione drove Catherine to the local posting house. The end of summer was nearing and at least four carriages, one driven by a man and his wife, were heading to the peninsula for Thesmophoria. The husband and wife agreed to take Catherine as far as the Westbrook area.

A pleasant enough couple, but entirely uninterested in Catherine’s plight. I doubt they noticed she was in one. She didn’t sob or whine or throw herself onto the wife’s matronly bosom. She sat on the “tailgate,” her bags against her side and watched the local landscape recede.

I know from much later conversations that she was unhappy. She barely  noticed the other carriages, the farmhouses set back from the road, the paths that curved temptingly around the main thoroughfare. She was suffering from a dissolving dream, which she had far more reason to trust in than Isabella’s assumptions about Eddie’s constancy. Catherine had thought—she had hoped—she had every reason to believe—

Young Miss Morland is no fool. She’d had every reason to believe that she and Henry were getting closer. But separation, even with telephones, even with email, even with the latest technological attempts to conquer distance, is the antithesis of “getting to know one another.” On Olympus, Catherine and Henry would have to rely on snail mail. Henry didn’t travel to the peninsula that often, let alone all the way to Wiltshire and the Eastern shore.

Catherine had the presence of mind not to blame herself for the visit’s abrupt end. “I wondered if Mr. Thebley learned of my suspicions about his wife,” she confessed to me later. “But Henry and Antione would never have told him.”

Loyal. Perceptive. Sure of her own integrity. Simply not cunning and avaricious enough to imagine that Rex threw her out of the house because, in his mind, she was no longer rich. 

So--also not practiced in cognitive dissonance. 

The farming couple set her down at a posting house in Westbrook. Catherine was so preoccupied with her changed circumstances, she gazed about in surprise when the carriage stopped and the farmer’s wife said cheerfully, “Oh, look, there are the Lins. They live out your way. I’m sure they will take you a little further.”

The Lins did. They have three children, under ten at that time, and Catherine became occupied with entertaining them for the next four hours until they reached Broadway and what residents call Millcreek Park in the other Greater Portland area.

It was near dusk by then, and the Lins arranged for Catherine to stay in the local hostelry. She didn’t bother to change. She ate a light dinner, rolled up in the comforter, and fell asleep, worn out by surprise and disappointment and travel.

Catherine told me about the trip later. At the time, I learned of it from Oreithyia and from Kouros, who was helping Cape Elizabeth farmers transport their goods to the peninsula for Thesmophoria and the market that followed. He spotted Catherine boarding a cart on its way back to Wiltshire. He lingered to catch her conversation with the driver.

“Ho, Miss Morland,” the driver said. “I thought you were off visiting friends?”

“It was time to come home.” 

“Your family will be pleased,” came to the blithe response.

“Nobody noticed her pale cheeks, tear-filled eyes, and stilted manner?” I said.

“She looked fine,” Kouros said. “People don’t waste away because a house party ends, not even teenage girls.”

He’s right, of course.

I was still furious when I learned what happened.

Northanger Abbey Revisited: Chapter 14

Isabella said to both men, “Catherine will inherit money from the Allens.”

Eddie scoffed. “Why would the Allens leave money to Catherine Morland? The families aren’t that close.”

Now Rex was staring at his son.

He said, “Are you telling me that Catherine Morland has no expectation of an inheritance? Land? Shrines? Goods?”

“Of course not,” Eddie said. “The Morlands have that acreage out near Wiltshire. They do okay but—”

And then he stopped and closed his eyes. His head sank until his forehead hit the table.

Eddie is a jerk. But he loves his siblings. He realized in that moment—as I did—that he’d just made Henry’s dating life a lot more difficult.

Rex rose to his feet. “Our family is not carrion for vultures,” he said and stormed out.

Isabella gaped. “I guess Catherine won’t get her happily ever after either,” she said finally.

“You really think you would be happy with me?” Eddie said, leaning back, long legs extended, ankles crossed.

I walked forward then. Isabella paid me no mind. But Eddie saw me and slumped into what passes, with Eddie, for humble prostration.

“An apology would be wiser,” I told him.

“Sorry,” he said to the courtyard flagstones. “Sorry, Isabella. Hey, maybe James will take you back.”

I wish I could say that Isabella cursed him out for that suggestion, that she flounced off in offended hauteur to indulge in a little weeping followed by timely contemplation and a temporary change in behavior. Swore off men. Read anti-romance myths, including the one about Medea killing off everybody.

She didn’t. She sent a letter to Catherine, protesting that she had no idea what happened to upset James! Catherine—ruthless for once in her life—never responded.

Isabella then visited my altar, deposited a necklace, and delivered a monologue about how much she cared for James, she didn’t understand his coldness to her, she was so hurt by his behavior. She hoped someone would explain to him how she truly felt.

I didn’t. I sent for Hermes instead.

“Okay, money-man,” I said. “Why does Rex Thebley believe that Catherine Morland will inherit from the Allens?”

Hermes related the conversation between Catherine and John in the carriage. He added, “John Thorpe told Rex that Catherine and James are the Allens’ godchildren. They're in for a windfall.”

“Why does John Thorpe believe it?”

“Because he is an idiot,” Hermes suggested. “The guy says whatever pops into his brain.”

“An inheritance isn’t why the Thorpe siblings came to Olympus.”

“Not exactly.Though James Morland is more solvent than either of them.”

I agreed. James was a college graduate—in the other world, his veterinarian degree would earn him a decent income. Even here, it would eventually make him a sought-after commodity. Isabella had good taste, if no sense.

At some point, she or her brother created a story about themselves and the Morlands: Cinderella with the motive of financial gain. And who can blame Cinderella for wanting a better life? Sleeping in a hearth is great for penitents, not college students trying to find themselves.

I’m not opposed to marriages for money. Or for social standing. But I prefer people to face their motives. And too, the motives should be based in reality.

In truth, Isabella wasn’t the product of Cinerella-type fairy tales; she was a product of a culture that said, “You’ve jumped through all the hoops. You’ve proven your enlightened mental framework. Here’s your reward.”

The reward didn’t exist. So she and John invented it.

Hermes said, "Rex learned about Eddie's so-called engagement when James Morland sent Catherine a letter."

I'd already heard about the letter from Eirene. Hermes was playing catch-up. I glowered at him.  

“I could have used that information about John Thorpe and the Allens earlier.”

He smiled, all teeth showing. “You should learn to ask for it. I have a few trades coming up. You could bless the investors with your warm and fuzzy feelings.”

“Not a chance.”

“Well then.”

I studied him without comment, and he grimaced. I don’t do the mean-god thing that often—and Hermes has few normal weaknesses anyway. But I have Artemis’s ear (Hermes is smitten). And I can influence citizens who regularly deal with Hermes. Nick sells ice cream that Hermes procures from the other world. Nick’s wife recently returned to the other world, and Nick is looking for another help-meet. Nick visits my temple regularly.

“Okay,” Hermes said genially. “Here’s what I’ve got.”

He gave me more details about James’s letter to Catherine. He told me about Catherine’s relationship with Paul Henry—I could assume a growing attachment, possibly mutual expectations. And now Rex Thebley would end their relationship. Or try to.

I could override Rex’s wishes. But Henry would have to act. Catherine would have to overcome her diffidence. Natural law. I might dither on some issues. I don’t force marriage on people who can’t handle the responsibility.

I swore, and Hermes looked mildly interested. “This is a marriage you favor?”

“Not sure. You were here during the Chaos. Did the Thebleys stay the course?”

And Hermes shut down.

Hermes was young when he became a god, under the age of ten. He was here during the Chaos, the time when the gods tried to override natural law and couldn't keep up. When Ares arrived, several years before me, Hermes had reached his actual age of sixteen. He is now in his thirties though he looks what Kouros calls a “yuppie twenty-five-year-old.”

Hermes doesn’t talk about the Chaos. Maybe with Kouros and Hades. Never with me.

I leaned forward and lay a hand on his shoulder. I didn't speak. Apology. Appeasement. His expression eased.

He said, “Rex Thebley put up the fence. He was newly married. He presented The Keep as a secure location for his family and the townspeople.”

“He claimed.”

Hermes grinned. I leaned back.

I said, “What about the family’s background? Oedipus and Jocasta and so on. Did it really happen?”

“Before my time. Before all of us. Eros—the prior Eros—would have known, but he left when Kouros arrived.”

“Hades has judges working for him these days. Do you think they could find anything in the Underworld’s computers?”

“Records are spotty.”

“How about I find a mate for Nick who is good at accounting, and you track down those records for me?”

“I could do that.”

Hermes stood and smoothed his entirely unrumpled and slicked-back hair.

He said, “When Josie Thebley married Rex, she researched the family. She’s still on Elysium. She might cough up details.”

He looked at me, one eyebrow raised.

Bargaining with Hermes is like bargaining with elves or fairies. Or a lawyer during the discovery process. Make the wrong request, you end up cursed and without the necessary information.

I rolled my eyes.

Hermes smirked and unbent. “I’ll ask Josie too,” he said graciously. 

I nodded, which meant--in Hermes's book--that I owed him.

Northanger Abbey Revisited: Chapter 13

Catherine supposed Rex Thebley was returning to the peninsula to bless Eddie and Isabella’s engagement. She likely assumed that I would agree to the match.

Catherine thinks the best of everyone, including me, and she was lacking information—as was I at that time. She didn’t know what Rex would learn during his confrontation with Isabella and Eddie. She didn’t know what dramatic crisis lurked in her life.

She was sad for James, of course, and disillusioned by her supposed best friend’s inconstancy. But James’s pain existed at a remove, and Catherine had never been that attached to Isabella in the first place. Not that Catherine admitted the latter truth to herself. But Rex Thebley was out of the house; she and Henry were growing closer; Antione was encouraging her to stay as long as she wished. As far as Catherine was concerned, life was good.

Perhaps Catherine was becoming philosophical: Que sera sera. Perhaps she knew her brother well enough to know he would return to baseline in short order The Morlands are not the type of people who wallow in angst.

Whatever her reasons, she didn’t sit by her guest bedroom window, fretting for another update from James. She didn’t convince herself that James would do himself harm—she must fly to his side. She did speculate with Henry and Antione on what might have gone wrong in her brother’s relationship.

I was aware of what was going wrong several weeks before the engagement ended—despite being busy with the Mills’ approaching wedding. I heard through the grapevine of arguments between James and Isabella. James is not an arguer by nature and not one to air grievances in public. He must have been pressed to vocalize his discontent.

He requested Isabella to be “careful” around Eddie Thebley. He entreated her, in public, to stay with him rather than swan off on a boat cruise around the cove with Eddie. He tried to tell Eddie that he was engaged. Apparently, Eddie lifted his brows in a “seriously, dude?” manner, which even Ares admits can raise a person’s hackles.

Isabella laughed at the request. She called James’s entreaty “interference” and “domination.” She preened when James confronted Eddie.

And then James stopped trying.

Isabella didn’t notice. She hung on Eddie’s arm and informed people that they were “going out.” The “going out” grew into “practically engaged.”

“Has Eddie made a declaration?” I asked Eirene.

It was the day after the Mills’ wedding. I was sorting offerings—my altar needed clearing though Olympian rules require that I always leave a few on a display—while Eirene sorted gifts for the family alongside “Thank you” tokens. Eirene could make serious bucks as a wedding planner in the other world.

“Of course not,” Eirene said and sighed. “It’s possible Isabella doesn’t understand how protected Eddie is—not just by his job and his family but by you.”

“Eddie is not one of my favorite people.”

“But you won’t push him into marrying Isabella.”

“She isn’t pregnant, is she? Artemis or Hestia would have told me.”

“No. As far as I know, they aren’t sleeping together—mostly heavy snogging and petting. Isabella thinks she is ‘advanced’ in her ‘couple with benefits’ assumptions paired with old-fashioned ‘wait to bestow one’s favors’ self-protection. She thinks they are serious. Eddie knows they aren’t.”

“Because he would need my approval.”

“Exactly. Isabella knows that you are a deciding voice. Enough people have told her. But your approval isn’t real to her. It isn’t a given.”

“I’ll call them in,” I said.

I sent an official messenger that afternoon, commanding Eddie and Isabella’s presence at my temple the next day. Isabella arrived before Eddie. Eirene ushered her to the courtyard. I stood within the portico, temporarily unnoticeable, and felt a pang of regret. Isabella looked lovely, dressed in a kind of Red Riding Hood outfit with an ankle-length coat. She was brimming with self-satisfaction which passes for confidence in some circles.

She was entirely oblivious to the pain she had caused James and, tangentially, to Catherine. She was equally oblivious to how grossly she had misread the man she pursued. Isabella walked into this particular fire.

I was still sorry for what she would suffer.

I turned as Eirene guided Eddie and Rex Thebley past me into the courtyard.

“I expected Eddie,” I said as Eirene paused beside me. “Why Rex?”

“James Morland sent Catherine a letter. He referred to Isabella and Eddie as ‘engaged.’ Rex left The Keep as soon as he heard. I guess he is here to break off the non-engagement.”

“Jackass,” I said.

For Isabella clearly interpreted the presence of the father as approbation—until he ignored her hand, sat down, and pointedly looked away from her.

Natural outcomes were making themselves felt with a vengeance. Maybe I could spare Isabella—except what would clemency accomplish? Would she learn not to hurt others through sheer thoughtlessness? To not build imaginary worlds based on what she wanted rather than on people’s actual behavior?

Could Isabella learn?

“I’m afraid,” Rex Thebley said, glaring past Isabella’s left ear, “that I cannot countenance my son’s engagement to a member of your family.”

His tone was sullen, as if Isabella had personally insulted him.

Eddie said, “We’re not—” at the same time, Isabella said with glib flirtatiousness, “Surely, that is up to Eddie and me.”

At which point, Eddie’s denial caught up to her. She stared at him. 

“We’re not engaged,” Eddie said to her. “I never asked you. Or spoke to my father. Or Venus. This is the first time we came here together.”

“You need permission from your daddies?” Isabella said lightly.

She was hitting all the wrong notes.

Rex said, “The Thebleys are a respected family on Olympus. Our line goes back generations to the earliest histories. Yes, my sons will come to me for permission when the time for marriage arrives. I will naturally then approach Venus.”

As if Rex Thebley’s permission would override my good sense. It was a pity I happened to agree with him here.

Isabella was looking quite put out. “I didn’t realize that Olympians were so hide-bound.”

“Why did you come here then?”

Silence. The answer was, I came because of James Morland or I came to get away from school and other demanding things.

Even Isabella seemed to realize the possible negative consequences of those answers.

She said, “My mother is a citizen of Olympus.”

“The Thebleys are dedicated servants to the great gods,” Rex said firmly, and, in fairness, he was telling the truth. “Eddie is one of Ares’s soldiers. My daughter works with Athena’s assistants. Henry oversees several shrines. I understand you have no particular loyalty to a shrine or temple.”

“I’m sure I can master all the philanthropic work a lady of the manor requires,” Isabella said, another throw-away line.

She patted Eddie’s knee. He hunched his shoulders and threw a desperate glance around the courtyard. But if I wasn’t going to rescue Isabella from reality, I certainly felt no obligation to rescue Eddie.

Rex said, “But what do you offer? In terms of a vocation?”

“Are you talking about religion? In this day and age?”

“Do you have items to offer our family’s gods? Anything that would improve trade with Hephaestus?”

You have plenty of money,” Isabella said, and finally, she sounded annoyed. Nothing was going as she imagined.  

Unfortunately, her annoyance betrayed too much. Even Eddie gave her a surprised glance. No doubt, he figured his animal magnetism was Isabella’s sole reason for abandoning James, who could offer no more than a decent small house on his family’s estate.

“We are not in the business of funding opportunists,” Rex Thebley said stiffly, which was so close to the mark, I expected Isabella to wince.

She didn’t. She looked pleadingly at Eddie. “Surely, love is greater than financial considerations.”

“Character,” Rex said. “Your friend Catherine comes from a worthy family that has spent several years on Olympus, acquiring a good reputation.”

“And a fortune,” Isabella said, spitting the words.

Eddie blinked confusedly at her. So did I.

Rex didn’t. If anything, he looked smug. And my heart sank.

Hearts do that, you know. Bury themselves in fear and despair and regret.

“Catherine Morland doesn’t have a fortune,” Eddie said.

Northanger Abbey Revisited: Chapter 12

Of course, the Morlands also took Catherine to visit the local shrines.

The Thebleys naturally give offerings to Apollo. Dionysus is the patron saint of Thebes, the city of Oedipus in the other world. But Olympus doesn’t currently have a Dionysus. He would likely be linked to Kouros and Demeter—agriculture, grapes, and all that—and the general feeling in Olympian councils is that Kouros and Demeter currently have “too much on their plates.”

The second major god of Thebes is Apollo. Truth be told, the Thebley’s offerings to Apollo are perfunctory. They aren’t the most artistic of families. Rex usually offers to Apollo in conjunction with offerings to Zeus and Hera.

Henry oversees the shrines to Hephaestus and Hades. He visited those shrines with Catherine.

They were getting along splendidly despite the, ah, misunderstanding outside Henry’s mother’s room. Henry went out of his way to be vaguely apologetic with Catherine. And Catherine isn’t the type to insist on a dramatic separation followed by a dramatic reconciliation. Within twenty-four hours, she was as happy with his company as if he’d never behaved like an ass.

They companionably drove into the town of Woodston together. Hephaestus’s shrine is an altar outside a trading post (Hephaestus prizes efficiency). Henry deposited mined gems on the altar, then went inside to arrange a pick-up of clay from the estate’s northern quarry. Hephaestus’s “blessings” on the family would arrive in the shape of another generator.

Damia was on duty that day. “So, who is this?” she said with a bright smile at Catherine—as if Damia didn’t know.

“Catherine Morland. Catherine, this is Damia, an assistant to Hephaestus.”

“Nice kid,” Damia told me later. “She left some shells on the altar, which Hephaestus plans to add to a necklace. Not the costliest of offerings but well-meant. Sweet.”

“Did she leave anything at Hades’s shrine?”

“Of course.”

Catherine may have sternly enjoined herself not to indulge in more campfire frights. I was pleased to learn she hadn’t given up entirely on her melodramatic dark side.

Not that Hades is melodramatic. His quiet levelheadedness is a good match to Kouros’s reserved borderline belligerence. Like Hephaestus, Hades emphasizes practicality. He is the god of mining and whatnot and uses his shrines to collect donations for the recent dead.

Yet Hades’s shrines maintain an aura of mystique. The one near the Thebleys is located in a grotto in the town park. The shrine is several feet inside. Lanterns hang from the walls. Kouros suggested at one Olympian meeting that Hermes replace the lanterns with electric lights (the Underworld relies on modern technology). Hades said mildly, “I think citizens prefer the ambiance.” Kouros laughed, and Hades gave him a wink.

Olympian meetings are one of the few places I can observe the god of spring and the god of death together. I’m technically responsible for intimate relationships between citizens and gods. Not that I tread the latter path often—not until the participants require my intervention. Zeus and Hera haven’t complained about each other to me for several years now, possibly because my definition of marriage counseling is “everybody admits to their mistakes, including where their eyes rove.”

My definition of marital success is “members of a relationship agree to and comply with the same standard.” Have a polyamorous relationship by all means—just make sure nobody in the relationship is surprised.

Henry and Catherine increasingly struck me as a compatible couple. They shared a standard. Catherine, for one, was honesty personified. Henry found comfort in that honesty.

They were also both reasonably orthodox. Atheists and “topple the gods” rebels show up on Olympus now and again but refusal to accept the obvious is a pointless position when the gods are so very omnipresent.

Greater conflicts arise over how the gods should behave—and over which gods should receive a citizens’ entirely voluntary offerings.

Damia accompanied Henry and Catherine to Hades’s shrine and reported their exemplary behavior. Henry related the story of Hades and Kouros as Catherine approached the altar and deposited toy blocks carved by her father, a gift for a dead child.

Henry said, “The current Hades came twenty-five years ago at the end of the Chaos, the time when Olympus’s natural laws broke down. My father remembers the previous Hades, a dour man who loathed his job and let the monsters from the Underworld roam free.

“Then, the new gods came. Zeus and Hera first, followed by Hades and Poseidon. Of course, the gods don’t age. Hermes was here then, and he looks even younger than Hades. Hermes served Zeus, Hera, and Hades as they repaired the damage caused by the Chaos and restored the seasons—except winter, of course. Only when Kouros came five years ago did winter begin again.”

Not a poor retelling though lacking the dark and shivery bits that Catherine so appreciates—such as Zeus and Hera sacrificing the human Adonis when they first arrived until Hades banned the endless slaughter. Perhaps the Thebleys don’t tell that version since it paints Zeus and Hera as zealous magistrates indifferent to human suffering. Of course, Zeus and Hera would claim they give their “all” to alleviate human suffering.

Welcome to Olympian politics.

Henry also didn’t dwell on how Kouros and Hades bring about winter.

Maybe he was shy.

Olympus is fairly conservative on sexual matters, though its laws are less so. In any case, gods are allowed more latitude than ordinary citizens.

Catherine said, “I heard that when Kouros first arrived, he was chained to a statue for a month—forced to starve—”

And BDSM entered the picture. The Goths would approve.

“He had to answer riddles by the Fates who then released him to Hades.”

Plus Catherine got the timeframe and order of events wrong.

Henry didn’t correct her. Perhaps, he didn’t know the “true” version. The Thebleys didn’t spend much time on the peninsula during Kouros’s early years. Rex prefers not to take sides until the verdict is in. 

Perhaps, Henry preferred the streamlined story.

A story distilled to its essence will satisfy listeners at an instinctive level. Cinderella gets the shoes before she goes to the ball. The Beast suffers his curse before Beauty declares her love. Riddles get posed and answered prior to reunions.

Perhaps the need for clear cause and effect explains the news. Based on Hermes’s descriptions of Twitter, the wish for clearly marked heroes and villains--defined outcomes--is second nature to humans and gods. The dissemination, despite the lack of computers, doesn’t appear to be any slower on Olympus.

Take the dissolution of Isabella and James’s engagement. After visiting the local shrines, Catherine and Henry returned to the Keep to find a letter waiting for Catherine from her brother. Hermes delivered it. He knew by then that I was invested in Catherine Morland’s future. He guessed that I would be less than thrilled to learn—several weeks after the fact—about John Thorpe’s assumptions. He was likely hoping to pick up “breaking” information about the Thebleys before he had to face me.

In a streamlined narrative, Hermes would have told me earlier about the Thorpe-Morland-Thebley miscommunication. But then, in a more streamlined narrative, Catherine would have realized the impossibility of James and Isabella as a couple before she went off with the Thebleys. 

Through Hermes, I learned that James wrote to announce the end of his and Isabella’s engagement. Catherine gasped when she read the letter. Henry and Antione hurried to her side with expressions of concern.

Nobody was dead. No parent had fallen ill. No sibling was suffering from a broken bone.

Only a broken heart.

“She read parts of the letter aloud,” Hermes told me. “James swore he’d done everything he could to save the engagement. He’s probably right and should be counting his blessings at its dissolution.”

“He was in love,” I pointed out, and Hermes tried to look as concerned about human frailty as Hermes can.

He said, “Antione and Henry were unsurprised—until Catherine read the part about Isabella being engaged to Eddie.”

“Which she never was.”

“You think Eddie will ever tie the knot? He avoids your temple like it’s a hotbed of plague. Antione and Henry said as much, that Eddie would never be forced to the altar.”

“Yet James believed such an engagement existed. As did Isabella.”

And Rex Thebley. When he heard about his son's supposed engagement, he left immediately for the peninsula.