Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Seventy Four

written 27 November 2006

Polly awoke in a strange room. It took her a moment to remember, then she sighed happily and snuggled under the warm covers again.

Today was the big day.

She thought over all the preparations they had made, the careful assembly of household items, linens, clothing, even a few preserves and cakes she could put aside for the inevitable housecalls people would make over the next few months.

Softly, Nan rapped at her door and peeked in. "Good morning, Polly, are you up yet?" Then walked over to the bed and looked solemnly at her sister, in the big bed used for things like important guests and births and deaths.

Polly sat up and stretched, her long hair falling around her shoulders and down to her waist. She held out her arms to her youngest sister, and they enjoyed a brief hug before Meg and Doris came flying through the door.

"Polly! There's so much to do! Where's the hairbrush?" and "I have the hairbrush, where's your chemise, Polly?"

Nan grinned at the sight of her sisters, partially dressed, fussing about the room. Polly gave them that look just like their mother, and they calmed down, then looked at each other and nearly fell over laughing.

Meg was wearing Doris's dressing gown inside out, over her own petticoat and chemise. Doris had settled for a patched shawl atop her underdress. Neither looked as if she had slept, having stayed awake until nearly dawn whispering excitedly about the festivities.

Nan tripped down to the kitchen, leaving her sisters to get ready. First, a plain chemise, but of the softest linen. And long stockings, plain but for a blue flower at the ankle, a symbol of hope for the new path she was taking. Then a plain and sturdy petticoat, with cording to help it stand out. A short-sleeved, high-necked underdress, with fine lace at the hem and embroidery at the collar. A full petticoat, with extra ruffles at the hem -- and more lace.

At this point, Polly was glad to stop for a bit and have a taste of tea, though her stomach turned into butter-moths at the thought of cake. Doris obliged by finishing it off, while Meg finished dressing, then soberly stood by with a finger bowl and towel for Polly, who also washed her face carefully.

Next was the beautiful blouse that Gilly had worn for her own betrothal. Lovingly made and embroidered by Ava all those years ago, the colors remained bright and cheerful, and the fabric crisp and clear. A skirt that picked up the blue in the embroidery, with coordinating figures at the hem finished her off.

Meg and Doris set to fixing her hair, brushing it gently and carefully, parting it here and there, braiding it up and over and back again, just the right shape to support the veil Helena had made. They had practiced it many times over the last few weeks, and Polly admired herself in the mirror they held. In no time, Doris and Meg's hair was coifed as well, and the three girls, in blue, green and yellow, looked for all the world like flowers in the breeze.

Doris dashed downstairs to let everyone know Polly was done. And then, nervously, Polly and Meg sat down to wait, Polly's fine, soft blue slippers and warm flowered shawl on the bed, the veil Helena had made pinned carefully and adamantly to Polly's hair.

Though it seemed like hours, it was really only a few minutes before they heard a carriage pull up and Paul knocked on the door.

"It's time Polly," he said a little more gruffly than he intended, holding out a small package. "This is for you, I brought it home from the city in the valley." And Polly nervously let Meg secure the clasp to a locket with a bouquet of flowers just like those embroidered on her blouse.

Andy, Otto and Owain stood as the girls walked into the front room, and Gilly and Nan gave happy little cries of delight. Esmeralda smiled her approval, and Ava nudged Adam to make his speech.

"Today is the beginning of tomorrow," Adam blustered. Andy grinned and elbowed Doris. "Your life from here on will belong with another family, one which you will make yourself. But always remember that we are also your family, and our home remains yours."

Ava interrupted, "You'll be fine dear, and we'll be just a few minutes' walk away if you need anything."

Which was true, for the groom and his family, with whom Polly would live, were just on the other side of the park.

They mounted into the carriage, decorated with ribbons and bells, pulled by two almost-white horses decorated with more ribbons and bells. Polly sat facing forward, between her parents, Esmeralda and Nan faced them. Ava and Adam took the reins and the children jogged along behind. As the carriage slowly passed houses on the way to the center of the village, taking a circuitous route so no street was missed, people streamed out of their houses in their finery, following along and singing with great enthusiasm, if not great pitch.

Peter and Helena, Inga and Daniel, were already at the Hall, waiting with Nancy and her husband to welcome the bride. They had spent the morning decorating, and the windows and doors dripped with garlands and swags. Inga held a bouquet of fabric flowers she had made, looking much like real flowers. The groom stood nervously to one side twitching at the tall neck on his new shirt, his family arranged on the steps like a funnel to guide the merrymakers into the short, broad doorway.

The villagers stood aside to let Polly and her parents go first, followed by Esmeralda and Nan. It took a while to get everyone through the doors and arranged properly in the room, which seemed close to bursting with all the people in fancy dress.

The ceremony was short, but held great meaning. Adam spoke first, "In this time of dark and cold, it is right and fitting that we greet the new year with hopeful acts. This betrothal is the ultimate hopeful act, hope of family, hope of prosperity."

Paul and Gilly stood before the assembly, together, saying, "We have watched you grow from a tiny child to a capable woman. We know that your life will have ups and downs, but you will weather them well."

The groom's parents spoke up, "Our son, you have brought us great joy thus far, and have chosen a lovely woman to add to our family and to build your own."

Polly and her betrothed could barely look at each other, while they held hands and whispered promises of support and love.

Esmeralda spoke the final words, "When you leave this hall, you leave no longer as a man and a woman, but as the anchor of a family. Your union today foretells many tomorrows, of sorrow and of joy, and you will each and both be stronger for being together."

Nan walked around the pair with the blessing wand, and bubbles filled the hall as the many guests shook their own blessing wands.

Leaving the hall, Polly and her husband were escorted by his parents in the carriage to their house for a quiet meal, while Gilly and Paul led the rowdy, happy crowd on foot to their own home for a much more boisterous celebration. Behind them, Otto, Owain, Daniel and Andy took turns swinging on the ropes in the village belfry, exuberant peals of joy.