I often took an evening walk with the seamstresses after our shift let out. We would stroll around the block once or twice for some fresh air after a long day inside. I left before the other girls that evening, expecting them right behind me. Pulling my shawl around me tighter to keep the damp evening from seeping in, I rounded the street corner and almost walked directly into Frederick.
“Ella, my dear!”
“My dear?” I thought. Pretty early for terms of endearment. . .
He took both my hands entreatingly. “I have come forth diligently to seek you!”
“Frederick!” I stammered. “What- What brings you out so late?” It was past 8:30.
“Why you of course!” He gazed at me intently.
“I have come to invite you to the opera on Friday evening!”
“I’d be delighted! I’ve never been before!” I could hardly take in the offer.
“I’ll pick you up in a carriage at seven!” He took my arm in his and began walking in the direction of the shop. “A lady such as yourself deserves to have the experience.”
“Here come the love birds!” Evangeline called out. I had the desire to slap her across the face for the remark. She consistently made rude comments to me in front of the rest of the seamstresses, but I held my peace.
“No wonder she left ahead of us!” Isabella smiled with a dreamy look in her eyes.
“Oh hush. I had no knowledge of his coming, and you were the ones who dallied after you announced you were ready to leave. I thought you were directly behind me.”
Frederick ignored them and turned to me with an earnest look. “I will go in and ask for your mother’s permission.” He kissed my hand and disappeared into the shop with a sweep of his long coat.
When we returned from our walk around the block he stood leaning against the doorway. He quickly came down the steps as I approached.
“I have read your letters over and over.” He took both my hands again. “I am so fascinated, my dear. You say so many beautiful things, so many sad things. Indeed you have a stunning soul. You have invaded my thoughts like a waterfall.”
I didn’t know how to react to such flattery.
“Here is my response, darling.” He dropped a letter into my hands. “I will see you Friday evening.” And with that he faded into the dark fog of the night.
I stood there motionless, gazing after him. What should I think? It was so fast. The opera? What kind of money was he spending on such an outing? Had it even been a week? And yet he found me fascinating. He read my letters over and over. No one had ever shown such interest, they were usually annoyed. “One day you’ll meet a real person who will listen to all those thoughts and he will be a lucky man indeed.” Was he the one my father had always told me about? I longed for my father’s reassuring hand on my shoulder and a word of his counsel.
“Ella?” Isabella touched my elbow gently. “Are you coming in?”
“Oh,” I woke from my daze. “Yes.”
“You love him, don’t you?” She asked as we walked up the shop steps.
“Love him?” The thought startled me. “Love him? No, but I think I might be starting to.”
“Ella!” My mother came toward me excitedly as I entered. “Oh my dear! The opera! I will let you borrow one of my fine old dresses!”
“Oh thank you! I was just thinking I don’t have anything of my own that is nice enough.” I smiled excitedly, but my face sobered as I remember something. “Mother, we need to talk.”
“Talk? Why what about? Aren’t we talking now?”
“Oh well, just come into the office.”
“You’ve reduced the wages.” I said as she closed the office door.
“Oh yes! Our neighboring shops have lowered their prices. I don’t want to lose business. We have to keep up!”
“Keep up?” Her words sickened me. “These are girls lives you are dealing with, not shillings and pounds!”
“Oh Ella! It’s just the world of business. This is the way things work!” My mother protested, acting as if she knew everything.
“No! You know what happens to the seamstresses who work for too little pay. You know the rumors and the truth behind them! Didn’t grandmother found this shop so that seamstresses could work for a living without being forced to prostitution? It’s not just a story! It happens and we’ve had seamstresses come to us for that very reason!” I remembered growing up hearing the story over and over again. “Can we abandon our first principles? That is the foundation of our shop! You’ve extended the hours for the season and are paying the seamstresses even less than regular hours! What holds you at a higher moral standard than any other business?”
“Oh Ella.” My mother sat down with a distressed sigh. “It’s so hard. I just- Sometimes I don’t even know anymore. We aren’t doing as well as we did last year. We lost a few seamstresses, the competition has lowered prices and they produce more and-”
“Mother,” I laid my hand soothingly on her shoulder. “We will make a way. Remember what father always said. ‘Honor God and He will honor you.’ We will succeed if we do right.”