Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Seventy

written 10 November 2006

Helena stared out the window, watching the last few lonely leaves drift past on the road. The bare branches echoed the mood in her heart.

Sebastian had been gone for months. At first heartened by reports of sailors who had been "recruiting" in the area when he disappeared, the weeks of no news had dimmed hope of seeing him.

Daniel was in town every day that he wasn't helping Peter. Between a project he and the twins had taken on, and were very secretive about, and a young woman he had his eye on, she couldn't blame him. He didn't have time to hang about the kitchen snagging tastes of her cooking all day.

Peter was silent, a shadow in her life. He woke early in the morning and slipped out of the house, returning when breakfast was on the table, eating swiftly and dashing outside again until it was dark and supper was ready. He was not unkind, just wrapped up in his thoughts and duties.

Inga was busy, helping Polly get ready for her betrothal. Always over across the fields, it seemed. She would help her mother get the baking in the oven or the stew on the stove, then off she would go to her grandparents' with a basket or bag over her arm. The house was lonely these days.

Helena shook her head and picked up the bobbins for the lace she was making for Polly's veil. She was the only one in the village who knew how to make such intricate figures, and she traded her work for fabrics and other items in the market. Swiftly, she twisted and flipped the fine threads back and forth, the bobbins clacking softly as they touched and came to rest.

She had begun teaching Nan while the child was recuperating, and realized how much talent the child had one day when, working on a thin piece of lace, she watched her work the pattern in reverse -- deliberately -- just to see what would happen. Such a dear child, she thought longingly. But the child's other gift, for healing, was also obvious and she had not wanted to cause any conflict by offering to teach yet another skill so soon.

A movement on the road caught her eye, but it was only a young buck, stepping gently across the way. Sebastian's coat had been of strong buckskin...

A tear dripped onto the lace. Bad luck, she thought, dabbing at it with her handkerchief rapidly. A bride's veil should be made of happy thoughts and pleasant wishes.

She remembered how Peter had first come into her life, traveling with a group of young men, off to explore the world for a time before they settled down. He was not the loudest, nor handsomest in the group. Indeed, of them all, he seemed the most retiring and shy. But his comments and simple acts demonstrated both intelligence and compassion.

They were in town only a few days, visiting someone's grandparents, bearing gifts from the distant town on the mountain, but Helena had run into them several times on the street. It was when she was struggling with a small goat she had bought for her mother at the market and a large basket on her arm that they actually met.

Suddenly, Peter was at her elbow, gently taking the heavy basket off her arm and asking how far she needed to go. Her heart had jumped briefly, and she blushed, and...

By the time supper was over, she knew. More importantly, her parents knew. Her father spoke at length with him, privately, in the entry hall after he had taken his leave of Helena and her mother, her younger sister making noises like a choking goose in the background.

A few months later, Peter returned for her, and they took their leave of the sunny, bustling city that was her birthplace to her mother's tears and her father's admonitions. She was nervous as they stepped into the carriage he had hired for the trip home, her trunk full of linens and dresses on the back, and baskets of gifts for her new family distributed here and there. A simple betrothal ceremony had taken place the night before in the town hall, followed by a banquet and dancing. Another would be held as soon as they arrived in Peter's village in a few days.

The long ride allowed them time to talk of their families, and by the time they arrived she knew her life would be much changed. Though she knew the fancy needlework by which her family had made their living for generations, she knew little of the skills that would be needed on a farm. Still, Peter assured her that his mother was a loving and caring woman, who would teach her anything she didn't already know. And so it had been.

As Helena nervously descended from the carriage in front of what was now Gilly's home, Ava had come rushing out onto the front porch, wiping doughy hands on a floury apron, smiling broadly. Her embrace, though she was not a large woman, easily held both Helena and Peter. Though unused to such physical displays of affection, Helena was touched by the gesture, and soon found herself sitting in the kitchen with a cup of hot tea, surrounded by her new sisters and brothers.

The memory made her smile, and she recited a poem from her homeland, of the joys of families, and the lace lengthened steadily and flowed over the edge of the table. Polly would make a beautiful bride, she thought.