I liked to think. That was one thing that I loved about my work. I could sit for hours over my sewing machine and sift through my endless thoughts. My father used to say that he wished my clothes could talk.
“What a story they would tell!”
I would laugh at him and say, “I hope they speak with discretion. I wouldn’t want my innermost thoughts known to just anyone, much less one of the dim-witted ladies of high society that I sew for.”
He would smile, “I think you sew with enough discernment to pass it into the character of your clothing.” Then he would usually say, “But one day you’ll meet a real person who will listen to all those thoughts and he will be a lucky man indeed.”
I wanted to believe that he was right. My heart was sick with loneliness, my spirit weary from too many years of self-reliance, and I longed for a listening ear. My father had died when I was 17 and put off my “going out” for a year while I mourned. I still miss our evening conversations by the fire. In a way I find it a blessing for him that he did not live to see those days. He didn’t have to witness my lack of success in the courting sphere. At the same time I longed for his steady reassurance as well as his discernment.
My mother only aimed me toward moneyed men. I knew she meant well. She had grown up in a high class family that lost their money in poor investments. Her mother had begun a sewing house to survive. When it came time for my mother to marry, her husband was a man who loved her, but not a man of means. Though she had lived well, she longed for me to have the freedom to choose my own lifestyle. She wanted me to have the time to raise my own children instead of working constantly and sending them away for schooling. She didn’t understand my love for the work as she was too concerned that it paid little. However well founded that dream was, she took it too far. If she met a successful businessman she would throw him at me regardless of character. Most of them were decent but none of them were compatible.
This story is about the season during which I turned 21. For some reason that year, everyone wanted me to marry. I found myself bombarded with two forces. People wanted me to become a ragingly famous and successful seamstress or completely quit the business and marry a rich business man. A number of my friends and elders believed I thought myself too good for marriage and foolish because of the choices I had made.
I was in the front of dress shop just after opening one morning at the start of the spring season. The first thing I noticed about her was her hair. When she walked through the door the sunlight caught it. Those curls couldn’t decide if they were blond or red. Then our eyes met. She had a beautiful innocent face with green eyes and freckles. We knew in that instant that we were friends. She smiled at me and walked toward me, kneading her hands.
“Welcome to Middleton Dressmakers,” I curtsied in return. “What may I do for you?”
“Well,” she shifted her feet nervously. “I’m going out this season and I’ve found that your shop provides the most excellent fashion.”
I wondered if she’d practiced that sentence. She’d said it so carefully. “Thank you!” I smiled warmly, trying to make her more comfortable. “Please, come and look at the work from our various seamstresses.”
“Oh,” she grabbed my hand; a look of fear filled her eyes. “What is your name?”
“Ella Middleton,” I replied, puzzled.
“Let me just choose you. I’ve been told you are the best in the shop. My friends have used you before.” She blurted quickly. “I-I’m so nervous.” She let go of my hand quickly and looked down.
“I’d be honored!” I smiled. “Don’t be afraid! Going out isn’t too dreadful, although I suppose I’m not one to talk as I haven’t succeeded in these past few years.”
Juliette smiled understandingly and I led her to choose from fabrics and styles. We had become friends and I knew that this season would be one of excitement and a lot of hard labor. I’d never done a wardrobe by myself, though I was old enough, and never for one so rich as Juliette appeared to be.
“Ella,” my mother took me aside before dinner. “You’ll be completely in charge of Juliet’s new wardrobe. We have so many orders this season that none of us will be able to lend a hand. Can you do it by yourself?”
I nodded calmly. “Yes, Mama, I’ll be fine.” I took a deep breath. “It’s a big task, but I’ve been sewing for years now. I know
I can do it.”
Mother’s hand dropped from my shoulder as she sighed with relief. “Well then, if you are certain.” She turned and run the breakfast bell.
I gazed out the window as I waited for the room to fill with girls. At our shop we boarded seamstresses from the country and had a few girls from the city who came as day workers. I watched people walking back and forth in the street. There was a gentleman on the opposing side walk who caught my eye. He wore a long black coat and a top hat. I saw little else of him, as his back was turned, but something in his manner seemed friendly and protective. I wondered who he was.
“Ella!” Evangeline, one of the seamstresses, called to me. “We’re ready to sit down.”
I turned from the window and took my seat at the breakfast table. As I often did, I let my mind free to wander in my thoughts. I spent the morning cutting fabric for the patterns Juliet had chosen. She had scheduled a fitting at 3 that afternoon, so I worked to piece together as much as I could before she arrived. When the lunch bell rang I stood and stretched my back.
“Oh, Ella!” My mother met me at the door into the dining room. “I forgot to tell you. There’s a gentleman who’d like to call on you.”
“And he is?” I brushed past her through the doorway, trying to be politely disinterested.
“His name is Frederick Williamson and he is quite good looking.” My mother followed me through the room.
“The owner of the cotton mill a few blocks away?” I looked up, not too surprised. He was rich. Of course my mother liked him.
“Yes! And I hear he owns a large sewing house as well. You should be honored that he’s taken a liking to you.”
“How does he know of me?” I gave her a slightly puzzled expression.
“Oh, he’s heard of your talent through the market. Your name is a rising one!” She smiled proudly. “You remember Daisy? The girl who left us last fall. I believe she told him about you.”
I stared absently at the fruit on the table, wondering what sort of fellow he would be. “Well, I take it he’s spoken to you and that you’ve told him I would meet him?”
“Yes! He’s going to come to the Sunday service at our church and I’ve invited him to dinner.”
“That sounds so exciting!” one of the younger seamstresses exclaimed excitedly.
I didn’t look over at her, but I could tell it was Isabella, my fifteen-year-old understudy and roommate. Her comment boasted she hadn’t gone out herself. I suppose my experience had made me cynical.
I looked forward to Juliet’s appearance that afternoon. Just before three I left the sewing room and cleaned up a bit before heading to the store front. She didn’t appear with the strike of the clock, so I absently walked around the shop tidying things. I glanced up as the door opened.
“Welcome to Middleton Dressmakers,” I smiled.
“Oh, thank you.” A tall gentleman smiled at me and removed his top hat as he closed the door. I could have sworn it was the gentleman I’d seen in the street that morning.
“How may I help you?” I laid down the bolt of fabric I’d been refolding.
“I’m here for my sister Juliet.” He smiled as he spoke and brushed back a lock of hair. I remember noticing that it was undecided in color just like his sisters. Sometimes it looked brown and sometimes blond.
“Is she unable to come?” I felt disappointed. I’d been excited about her fitting.
“Our carriage wheel broke this morning. She will be able to come later in the evening, half past four, if you are able to see her then.” He held his hat in his hands at he spoke and his clear, pastel-blue eyes looked at me with a distractingly intense gaze.
“Certainly! I’d be pleased to see her later. I’ll simply cut a pattern for another one of her dresses and she’ll have even more to try on.”
“Thank you. I will let her know.” He bowed slightly and stepped out of the shop.
I headed back to the sewing garret. My eyes followed the scissors across the cloth as I pondered the gentleman I’d just met. Something about him felt familiar and safe. I couldn’t remember ever having seen him before, but it felt as if he knew me. His eyes were like my father’s; earnest, warm, and kind.
“Ella!” One of the girls who worked primarily in the shop front was calling from the garret doorway. “There’s a lady to see you, Juliet Willingham.”
I dropped my scissors and picked up what I had ready. Lost in my thoughts of Juliet’s brother and then of what Frederick would be like, I had completely lost track of time. I walked straight to the fitting room and found Juliet waiting there for me. She’d already taken off her over dress and stood nervously gazing in the mirror in her chemise, corset, and bustle-crinoline.
“Ella!” She turned to me. “Oooh,” she gasped with a smile growing over her face as she saw the pale blue silk for one of the gowns.
I smiled and held it up. “You like it?”
“Oh, I love it!” her eyes were wide with delight. “I’ve never been able to pick out my own wardrobe before. Mother always has done it for me.”
“Well, you’re going out. It’s very important to make sure the clothes are just the way you want them.” I smiled. “If you notice the slightest thing you want changed, let me know. You need to feel amazing when you are wearing these clothes. There’s little point in having your wardrobe specially made for you if you don’t like it completely.”
Juliet smiled demurely as I pinned the fabric around her. She glanced in the mirror anxiously, and then looked at her feet. “I’m so dreadfully nervous about going out.”
“Don’t be!” I laughed. “Not that I would know what it’s like for a lady, but it wasn’t ever anything to be terrified of for me.”
“Do you have a beau?” she asked.
I pulled a needle out of my mouth and stuck it in the fabric. It stopped abruptly as it hit the corset. I’d pushed it in the wrong direction. “No! I haven’t actually been seeing anyone for several months.” I said as I re-positioned the pin. “But my mother has found a suitor for me whom I’m to meet on Sunday.”
“Oh really?” Juliet was eager to know all about going out. “What is he like? Do you know anything about him?”
“Well, he is the successful owner of a large sewing house and a cotton mill. His name is Frederick Williamson.” I laughed to myself at how he must seem such a small man to Juliet, who was going out to choose a husband among lords.
“That sounds grand, ouch!” She jumped a little as I accidentally poked her with a needle.
“My apologies.” I moved the needle quickly. “There. Take a look at yourself.” I stood back as she posed for the mirror.
“It’s… it’s beautiful.” She beamed. “I’ve never worn anything in this color before.”
I giggled to myself. “Well, it’s going to look a lot better! I’ve only pinned the fabric together, it just looks like a weird inside-out skeleton of a dress right now!”
“But, but it’s my favorite color, and I’ve never had anything this pretty!” she turned around, still looking in the mirror. “I think it’s lovely even now!”
“Well just you wait till the next fitting!” I grinned, wondering how she’d react.
We spent the next hour pinning, unpinning, and discussing the process of going out. Before our session ended it seemed as if we’d been friends our whole lives.
“You know, if all of these dresses turn out well to my liking and my mother’s, we might offer to have you as the family seamstress.” Juliet said as she finished putting on her gown again.
“Really?” I might have blushed at such an extreme offer and potential compliment to my work.
“Yes,” Juliet smiled. “And I’d love it if that were the case. Then I’d see you all the time.”
“Well, that sounds like a wonderful challenge.” I smiled at her as we walked to the front of the shop. As she stepped into the street I turned away wondering what on earth would come of it.
He tipped his hat to me as I stepped out of the cab. My spirit quailed. I can’t explain what made me give such a reaction, but I immediately distrusted the man. I’d seen a pair of dark eyes beneath that hat brim and a smile full of mischief which I later described as a smirk. By the time I had reached the steps he had disappeared into the church.
After the service I found him leaning on a porch column with his top hat over his brow. “Miss Middleton.” He swept off his hat and bowed, his long coat flourishing behind him. “Fredrick Williamson at your service.”
I curtsied in response. As he looked up from the bow our eyes met. The smirk dropped from his lips and he genuinely smiled.
“I was told to meet you here.” I began, feeling a bit awkward.
“And I came to seek you.” He studied my face. “You are indeed as beautiful as I have been told.”
“Thank you.” My cheeks flushed. I could tell from his eyes that his compliment was honestly meant. “And how many girls do you compliment in a day?”
He scoffed playfully, quite taken aback. “What?”
“I saw you complimenting two other ladies this morning.”
“I assure you,” he said, trying to quiet his little smirk. “I only complement a lady I find deserving.”
“And how many is that?” I had begun to enjoy our playful tete-a-tete. I realized now that sometimes his quirky smile meant he was blushing and trying not to grin.
He scoffed again. “You- I-” his smirk broke and widened. He wiped his hand over his mouth, as if to wipe away his grin. “I am usually not so stumped by a lady’s words.” He lost control of his face and blushed fully. He again drew his hand over his face, as if his blush were dirt to be brushed away and renewed his gaze with a freshly controlled expression.
My mind ran him over constantly, attempting to draw his character. I thought he was a bad man, but I’d been told my whole life that first impressions are often wrong. While I had never had a more intense first impression, I should let him draw his own character, right? I should let him speak for himself, should I not?
“You don’t easily trust me,” he said, stroking his chin softly as he gazed at me. I noticed his eyes, blue as the night sky, studying me carefully. “But you don’t trust anyone easily. You carry yourself with a barrier around you.” He finished and then quickly added, “As any lady should!”
I smiled at his care to make sure I understood his intent.
“And,” he added slowly, with his smirk growing again, “you don’t trust a man with a smile.”
“You are quite right in your observations.” I smiled, but it dropped from my lips and I gazed down at my gloved hands as I remembered the smile that had stolen my heart. “I’ve had bad experiences before.”
He shrugged, “We all have. Life is hard.”
I disliked his casual attitude over the comment, but he couldn’t know the depth of pain I was feeling. He had drawn a bucket from a well of hideous sadness in my heart. The last man with a smile that I had loved had left me without even a word.
“I hope that I do not seem too eager or forward. I am a man who speaks his mind and am not one to beat around the bush.” He pulled himself from leaning against the column. “It has been long since I enjoyed the pleasure of an intelligent conversation with a lady.”
“I am not a lady.”
“Yes you are. I mean the term as one of respect, not one of societal rank. If I were to call you a girl it would be either a term of endearment, and it is too early for that, or a term that denotes a lower rank. It would imply that you are younger than I, and presumably less experienced, perhaps naïve. If I were to call you a woman I would unfortunately imply the common usage of the word; that you have not lived honorably enough to earn the title of lady. But if I call you a lady I hold you in the honor and respect you deserve.”
I smiled at his eloquence. My estimation of him rose more and more as we spoke. I hoped I was not merely falling sway to his charm. We continued in conversation through a cab ride home and over dinner. I learned that he loved to read as much as I did, and we agreed in perspective on various historical events. By the time he stepped out the door with a sweeping bow, I was leaning on the door frame, blushing. Perhaps my wait for a husband had finally ended.
Glancing Back At The Fading Shore
Before I knew it, I found myself in another fitting with Juliet.
“I’m so glad to have found a seamstress close to my age.” Juliet said softly, and I wondered again if she felt nervous. “You see, I don’t have any sisters. As much as I love my brothers, it’s just not the same.”
I drew the blue silk over her bustle crinoline carefully as I replied, “I don’t even have brothers. It’s just me. I’ve sort of had sisters all my life because we’ve boarded seamstresses as long as I can remember. But it hasn’t been quite the same. They come and go. But I’d love to have a brother.”
“It’s nice. Lawrence and I are close.”
“Ever since my father died I’ve always wished I had a brother.”
“You were close to him?”
“Yes,” I tried to swallow back tears I felt coming. “I could come to him about anything. What I miss the most was just being able to fall apart when I was with him, and he wouldn’t condemn me or make fun of me. He would give me a long warm hug. And tell me all would be right in time.”
“Oh I know!” Juliet exclaimed. “So often you have to pretend everything is dandy in your life when you are around others, while you just feel like honestly admitting your heartbreak.”
“What I hate the most is that gentlemen will ask to call on you and woo you and you just wonder, will you be able to trust them with the saddest part of you? I have begun to realize that when someone is asking to know me closely, they are asking to know my heartbreak, to know the darkest part of me. Do gentlemen expect that?” I unconsciously began spilling myself over the subject. “Or do they expect a pretty girl to flirt with and look good on their arm? How do you make a judgment call when deciding over suitors? How do you know if they will care about you?”
“I know.” Juliet fidgeted with her fingers as she spoke. “I think that is why my brother has never shown much interest in marriage. He is protective of me too, and we’ve talked long about what I should be looking for in a gentleman. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever find a man as worthy as my brother.”
“And I wonder if I will find a man as worthy as my father,” I stood back and surveyed her dress. “He was the best of men, and I remember once when I was very small he rescued a little boy from a gang of young men who were beating him. Could I find a man as admirable as that? It’s not so much that I want to marry. I’m content working, but I’m lonely. With my father I could just speak, but now if I want to talk to a gentleman, unless it is romantic, it becomes awkward. I can’t confide much in anyone but girls without making a mess.”
“I guess I’ve never considered how blessed I am in that regard.” Juliet smiled endearingly at me. “But take heart. I’m sure you’ll find someone as worthy as you deserve.”
I began adjusting her dress again for a better fitting at the waist and over the bustle as I wondered if Frederick had any of the virtues we discussed. “Well, the only way to know is to risk showing your heart for what it is.” I sighed. “I’ve done that a few times and have been laughed at for ‘being emotional’ and yet I’ve never met a man who is less emotional than I. Every boy or man I have ever known has caused as much or more drama in our friendship than any girl I have known.”
Juliet laughed. “My brothers squabbled just as much as my friends and their sisters do. I have to be their go-between.”
“Do they still live at home?” I wondered their ages.
“Well, the oldest is married, so he and Lawrence only fight if his family visits for a while.” Juliet shifted and scratched her head as I unpinned the dress. “But James and William are younger than I am and I have to manage them too.”
“It’s complicated having siblings then?” I again could only wonder.
“Oh yes. Yes. And being an older sister is a job in and of itself,” She began dressing again as I folded up the fabric of the new gown. “But, changing the subject, you mentioned a suitor you were to meet; how did it go?”
I blushed a little. “Well… I think it went well. I don’t know anything about him really, but he was very kind.”
“Well, be careful that you don’t compromise your standard merely because you are lonely.” She smiled, “I hope it turns out well.”
“Well, we shall see.”
I thought of Frederick here and there throughout the next several days. I confess it was not without a blush or two, but I was also cautious. He had knocked at the door, but had not gained entrance into my heart. That left me to wonder if he had the key. Sometimes it takes a very long time to gain someone’s confidence. Other times, like with Juliet, it takes only a moment. His conversation had intrigued me and flattered me, but I still felt haunted by a distrust for him.
All of these ideas took a turn in the road when a letter came for me Tuesday evening.
I have eagerly waited to receive a note from you since my visit and I confess that you have come to mind more than a few times. Again forgive me if I seem too eager. I am almost entirely deprived of conversation, much less from a lady as noble and beautiful as yourself. It seems there are few ladies who truly understand the word honor, and I am delighted to find that you do. I find you fascinating and intriguing. At the moment I would like nothing more than to converse with you, and if you chose not to reply I will take the hint and leave you be.
Until then I shall remain,
I laughed at the first sentence. Why would I write him first? He was the gentleman and it was his place. Without waiting, I took up my pen and began a response.
I merely awaited you to write me. I find your eloquence stunning. Let me first warn you that I am excessively fond of rambling and capable of writing a very great deal. I have overwhelmed many friends and suitors by the length and amount of my letters. Since you said on Sunday that you too ramble I hereby challenge you to see if you can match my pace.
You have certainly come to my mind a number of times as well. I must confess that you have opened a well of memory in me. The first time I fell in love it was before I was allowed to go out. That has been many years back and it was a drawn out and painful experience. In spite of the fact that it was only a correspondence of letters, he treated me with cruelty and I confess that I have been angry and hurt over the matter ever since. The fact that meeting you has made me go back into those memories is shocking to me. I was so hurt then that I closed off those thoughts, afraid to face them alone because of the pain they would cause. What can I say? You are somewhat like him in temperament, accent, and interests. At the same time you are very different.”
I wrote a bit more, mainly asking various questions. He had piqued my interest, much more than I had expected he would. The following day I thought of him almost constantly, coming up with all sorts of questions to ask him in my next letter. His words awoke many wells of thought, so that I felt almost swamped by my own soul.
After many hours of labor I found myself exhausted on Monday evening. I took a pen to paper, perhaps as a letter to Frederick, but also perhaps just to myself. I wanted to explain myself to him so that he might understand the type of woman he was trying to romance. So I began.
“Mine is a heart that longs to be romanced, that is empty and has been empty for many years. It aches to be used, to be filled. And yet to admit this longing is to bring upon myself shame. To say that I long to marry is to invite the scorn of others. It is to bring the snickers of men, or of women who believe that true womanhood is some kind of demented sort of constant vulnerability and dependency. If I am to say that I long to be romanced I invite the scorn of “being a woman.” Why? Why? Why? Are men incapable of longing? Are men devoid of a desire for romance? Are men truly heartless? Are men never lonely? Are men entirely self-reliant? Do men never long that the empty corridors of their thought be wandered by someone else?”
My tears splashed over the paper.
“What is it in the hearts of men that they have become so cruel? Is it a crime to want to be loved? And is it somehow only a woman who longs to be loved? And is it a crime to be a woman? Because… because I have always been told that it is.”
I resolved not to send the letter. At least not yet. It was too painful, too open, too much of my own heart and my own vulnerability to show him just yet. I simply folded the paper on the table and left it there.
“That’s enough!” I gasped as Isabella, my understudy, pulled my corset tight.
“Alright,” she muttered as she tied the strings.
I let go of the bed rail and slipped into my crinoline. “Are you ready for me to tighten yours?”
Isabella took my place holding the bed rail and I wrapped the cords about my hands and began the yanking process. “Are you excited to go out today?”
“Yes,” she spoke with a strained breath. “But I’m a little sad. I’d wanted to get hair ribbons for my sisters.”
“And you can’t?” I wondered why she shouldn’t manage it.
“Oh, the pay dropped this past week. Mrs. Middleton says we have to cut back this season.”
“What?” I found this hard to take in. Why would we be cutting back now? “But. . . she just extended the hours as well.”
“Well, it is her dress shop. She decides the rules. Stop! That’s enough!” Isabella took a sharp breath.
I tied the corset strings. “I’ll have to chat with her about that. The wages were low enough before. We can’t ethically deal this way.”
After breakfast, Isabella and I headed toward the fabric shop several block away. “So,” Isabella braved enough to ask a question. “How are things going with this suitor?”
I laughed and blushed a little bit, not sure if I was annoyed or happy. “Um… well he wrote me another letter last night. He told me a lot of his life story.” I spoke as we strode down the sidewalk. “He seems to be quite an interesting fellow. He was engaged a year back. Apparently she broke off the engagement after it had been long held and he said he’s been devastated ever since. I confess I’m beginning to like him some. But really it’s far too early to tell.”
“Oh, my sister met someone and they were engage within a week,” She spoke as if that were completely a good thing.
“Well,” I couldn’t decide what I should say to that. “This fellow does seem quite eager. I certainly hope he’ll have the sense to wait more than a week to propose!”
“Oh you should go for it!” She was talking excitedly now. “You are plenty old enough and this could be your last sewing season if you took his hand.”
I tried not to roll my eyes at the dreamy talk of a fifteen-year-old girl. Surely she meant well. “I prefer to go about it with discretion rather than speed.”
“Well, it’s a fine match,” she said as she pushed open the door of the fabric shop.
“Hullo, Miss Ella! Hullo Miss Isabella!” The shop keeper’s son greeted us with his usual bright smile. “Good to see you this morning!”
“Hello, Sandy.” A smile of relief swelled over my face. Sandy was one of those people who relaxes the spirit.
“What can I get for you?” He beamed, his chocolate brown eyes searching my face.
“Well, I’m looking for finishing materials; what do you have by way of lace trim?”
We glanced through spools of trim on a shelf as Isabella wandered about looking for her own things.
“How have you been?” Sandy always wanted to know.
“Oh, I’ve been well enough. A bit in an odd place really. My mother threw another gentleman at me. I’m not sure what I should do.”
“Pray and follow your conscience,” he replied as he pulled out a spool of lace. “Will this do for what you are making?”
“You make it sound easy,” I laughed as I inspected the fine crochet. “I think this will match.” I pulled out a scrap of the blue silk from the garment I was working on.
“Well, often the hardest questions have the simplest answers. Trust God. He will make your path straight.” Sandy surveyed the lace against the blue cloth. “You might want something a shade lighter,” he mentioned, offering another type of lace.
“Hmm.” I picked a lace. “I try so hard to do the right thing; sometimes I don’t think I have the strength.”
“Ella,” Sandy laid his hand on my shoulder. “Stop trying to live by your own strength. ‘They that wait upon the Lord shall mount up on wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.’ It is God who gives you strength, not Him demanding strength out of you.” In spite of his being eight years by junior, he gave me stunningly mature counsel.
“Thank you.” I smiled gratefully. “I shall try and use that advice.”
“Just pray,” he repeated his advice, as if it were the most basic and obvious truth. He skirted a cutting table, nonchalantly running his hand over it as he walked with me to the counter. “Is that all you need?”
“Two yards of that and some beads.” I went off in search of my last details, now remembering that upon returning home I should speak with my mother.
Why was she reducing wages and lengthening hours? Our business had not declined, had it? Were fabric prices really climbing so high? I tried to breathe deeply to feel better, but each thing that happened in those past few weeks seemed to add another layer of stress. I had taken on a wealthy client by myself, I was introduced to a new suitor, I had to confront my mother about business dealings, and the anniversary of father’s death was just a few days away. What on earth was the world coming to?
Fighting The Growing Storm
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 more than 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’m flattered that he’d take me!” 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- 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.”
Drawing The Map
Isabella was asleep when I came back to the room, which we shared. I sat down at my bureau and opened Frederick’s letter.
You astonish me. Many things you say stand out to me. “One can never receive merely a part of me. I love whole-heartedly, never holding back.” I often overwhelm people too; indeed I believe I have overwhelmed everyone I have ever met. I do not love half-way and it hurts me greatly that so many people do. With my last love, to whom I was engaged, I gave every bit of myself. And since the engagement lasted two years I have been devastated ever afterwards.
I confess that I am shocked you even looked twice at me. I have been at the end of myself, at the weakest state of my own humanity. Once I would not have been surprised to attract anyone, but now? No. It amazes me that you find me interesting at all. I am a rogue and quite possibly a scoundrel. I have secrets, dark and terrible secrets. I will tell you those things as we come to know each other well enough because I believe in honesty, almost above anything else.
You say that you struggle sometimes in finding someone who understands the value of a life-long relationship, that some of the people who have shown interest never intended to stay. Let me tell you now that I am searching for my other half. If I fall in love, I fall in love to death do us part. This is no frivolous matter. This is of the utmost importance and I speak this with all seriousness and sincerity. You must believe me when I tell you that my intentions to you are the most sincere you will probably ever find.
I must believe? Hadn’t I rambled in the previous letter over the topic of trust? Had I not written at least a paragraph about trust being earned, not given? Perhaps he was afraid of not earning that trust? And yet why should he be? Did his last love not trust him? While I found myself touched at his admitting his faults, the word “must” troubled me. I let these thoughts distill as I kept reading.
Please, let me sweep you off your feet. I will never let you touch the earth again.
The letter went on a ways. After I had finished it I sat there in thought.
I didn’t sleep that night. It wasn’t so much that I remember tossing and turning, which I do, but that I don’t remember a point at which I woke up. It was morning and I was awake. I could have tossed and turned for some hours and then slept until morning, but I didn’t. I hadn’t slept well the night before. Was it just the huge amount of stress piling over me? But I woke up to a dark sun. My own eyes could not see the day. I couldn’t concentrate on my work, and kept finding myself sitting at my sewing machine forgetting what I was doing. Finally, at three in the afternoon I told my mother I felt unwell and took the liberty of a rest.
Even then my thoughts ran too rampant to let me sleep, so I took my pen to paper.
You speak of coming to the end of yourself. You speak of not understanding why I should notice you. And yet it is I who feel that way.
My father died when I was seventeen years old. He was closer to me than anyone I have ever known. He was my anchor, my advice, my haven. And today is the anniversary of his death. It was a heart attack. He was there and suddenly he was gone. No warning. No goodbye. Nothing. He was smiling at me and laughing. And then he was on the floor, gone forever.
I have been alone ever since that moment. I have my mother, I have seamstresses that come and go. But my mother has been in a constant struggle of self-denial. I think that one day we will be able to communicate about it, but at least now, at least during the season, things between us always become stressed. In the fall and winter months we relax and talk at some level of trust, but when work is heavy… I don’t know. Things are hard, so hard. If I could have a punctuated form of work, I know I would do better. If I could work on a certain thing for a few hours and then change to something completely different I wouldn’t have such burnout. If my mother thought better of me, if my mother didn’t pressure me, this would be so much easier. But I realize, I can’t ask her to be proud of me. I can’t put my identity in her opinion of me because that is exactly what she is doing to me.
I once looked for someone to replace my father. I thought that I was incomplete in the eyes of others or merely in my own value if I was not loved and supported by someone else. I ran to a relationship as an escape, as the ultimate safety, the ultimate place of refuge, the ultimate place of definition. Of course, I was crushed. I know now that a relationship is not ultimate stability. A relationship is not one protecting another, it is mutual, and it is the sharing of a lifetime. It is the agreement to embark on an adventure together and never leave the other behind.
I confess that I am hitting rock bottom. This is me at the breaking point. I’ve been in so much physical pain that I’ve just, I can’t anymore. You’re right when you say I need a day off, and I’d love to just spend a day with you. But it is so much more. So much, so much more. I would benefit from a day’s rest, but it would not be enough.
Often I wish that I could cry. There are some girls that do so often and sometimes without need. But I am the opposite. I only cry in a dramatic circumstance, and only when I reach a certain level of fatigue. I wish now that I could cry. But I am not relaxed enough to do so. I am tense and pressed for time because I am working so much.
I chewed on my quill as I reviewed what I had written. My thoughts raced on to another subject and I began scribbling away again.
Why are people so unkind? Do those that have hurt me have any idea what kind of pain they have caused? How can people be heartless? Do they not know that love is vulnerability, that to be kind is to hurt more than anything else? That to care is to die? You speak of your dark side, the things about you that scare people away, but more than that, the things about yourself that you are afraid of. Well, I am afraid, because the moment that I admit how broken I am, when I just cry, people run. “You’re emotional. You’re overbearing. You’re clingy.” It’s what they all say. Do I have a dark side? No. But there is a part of me that I fear; because there is a part of me I do not know how to handle. Grief.
I have always been the strong one. If things in my family are rough, I’ll sort through it and give comfort. I am the last to admit my own hurt. I will seek out to comfort others and never ask for help myself.
So, to know me, to be close to me, to want to peel back the layers, to want to search through this castle, you will not just see the things that are pretty. You will find the things beneath the rugs. You will find the rooms I try to lock. You will find the parts of me I do not admit are dying. You will find that while most people see me as happy, I’m dying inside. That as much as I put all my strength in pressing on, that as much as I will never give up, sometimes I wish that I could. Sometimes I wish that someone would understand that to live as I live, to love as much as I love, to be as kind as I am, to be as generous, to be as honest, is to bleed all that I am and all that I have and only cling to the hope that someday, someday this will be worth all that I have given.
I sobbed against my bureau, but no substantial tears came. My father’s face would not leave my mind. After I posted the letter I remember feeling vulnerable and unsafe. Frederick had invited me to his trust, but even then I wondered if I should have said what I had. But it mattered little. What is done is done.
I woke up with a jumpy feeling on Friday morning. I expected Frederick to propose. Each one of his letters had been increasingly sincere and increasingly earnest. While I honestly felt the sincerity too sudden, I had known plenty of people to become engaged quickly and yet marry into a healthy relationship. I tended toward caution, but perhaps he was merely one of those swifter types.
However normal it might be, however often we wrote each other, I had only seen him in person twice. To me, what I knew of his public reputation was not enough. What I had read in his many letters was not enough. Only his demeanor face-to-face could determine his true character.
“Ella,” Isabella nudged me, speaking softly so no one else at the breakfast table would hear, “you’ve hardly eaten a bite.”
“My stomach is uneasy today.” I replied, glancing at the blue and white plate of eggs and sausage.
“Or stressed.” I replied. I didn’t feel like explaining. I’d been in love before and I knew my usual physical reactions. I would be shaky and short-of-breath. But not sleeping or eating with a complaining stomach? This had never happened to me before. It wasn’t from an overly tight corset either, in fact my stomach felt better when I put on the corset that morning.
I made petty mistakes all day as I worked. I knew that I should be excited and happy, and so I pushed that attitude, but in the pit of my stomach I felt strained and frightened. The more I thought of it, the more I expected it. “I’ll ask for your mother’s permission.” When he said that I’d assumed he meant the opera, but he could have asked for my hand.
“Ella,” my mother tapped my shoulder.
“Yes?” I turned to look up from my sewing machine.
“You can finish up for today. I’ve had an early dinner made for you. Your Aunt Louisa is coming over shortly to help you get ready, and of course to chaperone you.”
“Thank you!” I smiled gratefully as I rose from my chair. At least my mother’s great concern over my courtship made her give me special consideration.
My stomach felt uneasy as I ate my porridge. I tried to down the whole bowl, but I couldn’t manage the last few bites. Holding my stomach awkwardly I walked to the washroom. I remembered throwing up out of stress once before I’d seen someone. I found myself doing the same again. It was mild, not the way it feels when you have a virus, but I still felt shaky and weak afterward.
Aunt Louisa arrived as I had made my way to my room. Mother had laid her gown out on the bed for me. It was indeed lovely.
“Ella!” Aunt Louisa embraced me warmly. “It’s good to see you again!”
“Good to see you too!” I smiled at her, and then began taking off my work dress.
“Let me tighten up your corset a bit for that dress.”
My heart warmed around her. “Thank you. I’m glad you could come. Goodness knows how many times you’ve been my support and stay during courtships.” I laughed, “You’ve saved me from so many awkward moments, or helped me to have a private word if I needed one.”
“Oh Ella, I’m just sorry I can’t be around you more often.” She gave the corset strings one last tug and tied them. “I wish we could arrange our schedules better, but your work is one of heavy hours, and my children need me.”
“As much as I don’t mind my work,” I paused as I found my way through the deep red silk of the gown, “I do wish we could spend more time together.” I adjusted the cloth over my crinoline in the front and Aunt Louisa tidied the bustle and managed the buttons.
I watched myself in the mirror as she carefully put up my hair. I always liked how I looked in crimson, something about it made me look older and more serious. It made me feel elegant and regal.
“There.” She put in the last hair pin. “You look lovely. Now close your eyes.”
I heard the rattle of beads and felt them against my neck.
“Pearls for a beautiful lady,” She stood back and looked at me with a warm smile. “Now, I do believe I hear carriage wheels!”
“Oh, my darling!” Frederick exclaimed as I came into the street. “You look beautiful!” As he gave a sweeping bow, I noticed he wore a crimson waist coat.
“My Aunt, Louisa Davidson,” I motioned toward her.
“What an honor!” He kissed her hand.
“The pleasure is mine.” She passed a glance at me and we laughed internally at his somewhat overly romantic manner.
As we entered the theatre he took my arm. Leaning a bit close to me he said in an undertone, “Indeed, your fashion taste is most interesting. I cannot wait to see more.”
I smiled at him, and probably thanked him. But I remember feeling a cold insecurity. The comment could have been harmless enough, but it also could have meant something wholly inappropriate and his manner of speech hinted at no innocence.
As I expected, he treated me with utmost gentility through the evening. I gaped as he led me to a box seat. True it was one toward the back, and certainly not the best in the house, but I knew it must have been quite a feat to obtain these tickets.
In spite of my best attempts to show interest in the opera, I found it dull. We watched each other in sideways glances, but a number of times I found him blatantly staring at me. At last I leaned towards him and spoke in a low whisper.
“Do you expect me to sit completely composed with you gaping at me so?”
“I won’t stare at you.” He gave me a smile he meant to be most reassuring, but somehow I doubted him.
At intermission he took me downstairs to a parlor of the common guests. I say common. It was the parlor for those of the working class, but of course was quite fine.
“Let me provide you with refreshments.” Frederick vanished from us as we entered the room.
I felt strangely out of place. I had never been with such people before. As much as my mother’s family had once been in this rank before hard times had come, and I had come on the arm of a successful man, I didn’t feel too comfortable. Almost every woman or girl in fancy attire compares herself to the others in the room, and none of them judge lightly. While I didn’t particularly care for their approval, it brought a bit of tension.
“Mrs. Davidson.” Frederick was offering Aunt Louisa refreshments as she sat on a couch a yard from where I stood. They conversed for a moment but the noise in the room averted my hearing. Aunt Louisa was smiling at him, taking a sip of wine, delicately eating a tart.
“My dear,” he came to my side and offered a small plate. “Enjoy yourself.”
“Ah, I confess I find myself unable to eat this evening.” I smiled at him, a laugh playing on my lips.
“Why?” He raised an eyebrow.
“You know my stomach grows uneasy if I’m tense. But really, do you expect me to eat in front of you?” My laugh broke, and then I spoke in an undertone. “I vomited at dinner.”
“Well, I, too, am in a rather excited state, but I can at least eat.” He popped a tart into his mouth.
I watched him as he stood there nonchalantly munching. I wondered when he would propose. He could have just been asking Aunt Louisa for a private audience. But we began heading to our seats before he had said anything. I felt relieved in a way, but at the same time had the urgent feeling that I wanted him to get it over with. As I thought, he paused and led me into a side gallery. Aunt Louisa stayed out in the hall. Everything I had been mulling over for the past week would suddenly be decided.
“Ella, my darling,” Frederick knelt and took my hands. “Beloved, beautiful lady, I would be honored, overwhelmed, if you would do me the great honor of marrying me.”
“I-” nothing came out. The past hour had been saying yes, but suddenly I felt wholly confused and wanted to say no. “Oh, please! Do excuse me! Pray forgive! May I have the rest of the evening to think on it?”
His face fell, but he smoothed it as he rose to his feet. “Of course my dear, you may have all the time you need.” He gently led me out of the room with his hand around my back.
I shifted tensely as I listened to the shrill voices of the singers. Opera indeed was not my taste. From the corner of my eye I could see Frederick still intently gazing at me. I nervously glanced in the direction of Aunt Louisa. Concealing my alarm at seeing her dozing off, I quietly moved from my seat to wake her. She had never fallen asleep on such an occasion before. But as I rose, Frederick stood up and pulled me to the back of the box.
“Have you decided?” He leaned close to me. Before I had any time to declare my intentions he had pulled me into a kiss.
My memory here is a mixture of blur and complete clarity. I can remember almost every detail of some moments, and hardly anything else of others.
For his sake and my own I wanted to enjoy that moment. At first I tried to enjoy it, but too many of my sensors of shock screamed in my ears. This was too quick and completely inappropriate. He had cornered me in the back of the box. He had one arm around me, the other on the wall, and the shadows concealed us completely. To add to my shock his kiss was sharp and forceful.
Whatever doubt in my mind that had been there before vanished. When he at last gave me a moment’s breathe I gasped. “No! The answer is no!”
He drew his face back from me a bit, but did not pull back his arms. “No? No? After all that I offer you? When I invite you to a world that no one else could give you?”
No one else can give me? Who does he think he is?
“Why do you refuse me?” he continued, growing heated. “Have I not fulfilled every passionate desire of your heart?”
I grabbed for an answer, my mind had become scattered and frantic. “It is not right! I feel unsafe!” I felt completely idiotic.
“Oh, but God predestines our every action. If He lets it happen, it must be right.” His perversion of scripture horrified me.
“What? Were David and Bathsheba right?” I gaped at him.
“How can something that makes you feel this good be bad?” He leaned in and stole another kiss.
I winced backward. “No. No!”
“Oh, shame, shame on you Ella. Shame that you refuse such a perfect match. I’d wanted to keep you all for myself, but you’ll bring in plenty of money as you are. At the very least though, I have you for tonight.”
I remember thinking in that moment how thankful I was for a corset. I couldn’t keenly feel his arms running over me, nor could he keenly feel me beneath the carefully crafted cage of boning. But in spite of that small feeling of safety I had to immediately gauge what danger I faced. What did he mean by what he had just said? What were his intentions? Should I scream for help so that everyone in the entire theatre, the high class of all London society should hear me? Or should I be silent and do my best at an attempt to physically resist? All I remember then is that I shut my eyes.
Suddenly he was pulled off of me. I heard a scuffle, a cry, a punch, and a thud. Opening my eyes slowly, I tried to take in the scene. Frederick lay on the floor and someone stood over him. It was dark in the theatre and I was unsure of faces. I leaned against the wall, shaking and wrapped my arms numbly about myself.
“Ella,” a deep, quiet and calming voice spoke through the darkness. I knew him. He came toward me and gently touched my elbow.
I said nothing, but reached out and took hold of his arm. I was still involuntarily shaking.
“I’ll take you home,” He spoke in a low tone as he pulled me gently forward.
I walked with him, leaning on his arm in a daze. He lifted the curtain and we passed among a few constables. I dimly remembered Juliet mentioning that Lawrence worked as a detective and researched for the House of Lords. As we walked out of the theatre my mind flew in a thousand different directions.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here sooner,” Lawrence looked down at me as we stood under a streetlamp, waiting for the cab.
The events that had swirled around me had taken my voice. I remember not realizing he had spoken to me for a few seconds. When I did notice, I squeezed his arm and stared mindlessly into the street. My pulse was slowing, but I still trembled. I jolted at the sound of carriage wheels and clip-clopping of horses’ hooves. Lawrence handed me into the cab and I huddled into a corner of the bench, pulling up my knees to my chest. I felt the carriage sway a bit as he climbed in behind me.
“Would you like me to sit by you?” He asked as he climbed in.
“I- I still smell like him.” I threw my knees down and wrung my hands, as if somehow that would make the scent disperse.
“It’s alright.” Lawrence voice was soft and warm in the dark as he moved toward me and took my hands. “It’s alright. It’ll take some time for the shock to where off. Just breathe.”
“How did- How did you know to come?” I stared into his face in the darkness.
“Juliet told me about it, but-” He paused for a moment. “I’ll be honest. I’ve been investigating Frederick for a long time because I have suspected him of business crimes. When I leaned of his interest in you I actually sent Juliet to you. I knew his intentions were vile and I wanted to at least have a minor connection in the interest of your safety.”
“Why would you do that? Who- who are you?” I remembered wondering if we’d met before he had come into the shop that day.
“You might remember meeting me. I was the boy your father rescued from a group of rowdy young men in the street. They were beating me and your father sent them packing. I think you were by the fire with a spinning wheel when he carried me in.”
I remembered at once, especially because I had held my father in such high esteem for the event.
“I promised to repay him someday, but he died before I could. I’ve kept an eye on the shop ever since. When I learned you had to sell and Frederick was planning to buy-”
“What?” I bolted up. “Sell the shop?”
“You didn’t know?”
“No! Why wouldn’t mother tell me? That’s why she was cutting wages. So, is that- is that what he was talking about? Bringing in money- but what did he mean by-” I couldn’t bring myself to repeat his words.
“Ella,” Lawrence’s voice sank to a quiet whisper. “I hate that you have to be in the middle of this. I’m sure you know he owns a factory and a sewing house.”
“Yes,” I replied. Something in the tone of his voice warned that he was about to tell me something dreadful.
“He’s been forcing his seamstresses into prostitution. He’s runs his own business is it.”
I dropped against the back of the carriage, trembling again.
“It’s alright, Ella.” He again squeezed my hands gently. “He’s on his way to meet the law.”
“What is- What is-” I couldn’t force the words out. I was gasping, trying to cry, but I couldn’t. I suddenly squeezed his hands, a new fear gripping me. “Don’t take me home! Take me home with you. Say that I met Juliet at the theatre and she took me home because needed a dress repair. Say anything! I can’t face my mother like this, or, or sleep in a room with a fifteen-year-old girl who doesn’t know the first thing about anything. I-”
“Ella,” Lawrence leaned closer. “You’re safe. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid.” He directed the cab driver a different way as I shivered, burying my face against his shoulder. “But to rest your mind over the company, my father has been looking to buy into the industry for a number of years.” I thought I heard a smile in Lawrence’s voice as he said those words.
Several servants met us as the carriage stopped at the house. One of them opened the door and took my hand as I climbed out. “Good evening miss.”
Since the moment Frederick had forced himself on me nothing had seemed real, this least of all. Lawrence led me into the house on his arm. Juliet was rushing down the stairs when I entered the house, her white cotton night gown flowing behind her. She threw her arms around me at once and didn’t let me go.
“Ella, Ella. Thank God you are safe!”
“Could you let her sleep with you tonight?” Lawrence was speaking quietly to Juliet. “She shouldn’t be left alone, not while she’s still in shock.”
“Of course!” Juliet eagerly replied.
“Laura, draw a bath for Miss Middleton and tell someone to make a cup of tea.” He must have been talking to a house maid. “Oh, and lay out a night gown too.”
“Yes, sir,” I heard a sweet voice respond.
“Come upstairs. I’ll show you my room.” Juliet had her arm still around my shoulder as she led me up the stairwell. “It’s not as big as my room at the manor, but it’s cozy at least, and the bed is very big.”
“I’m sure it will be nicer than anything I’ve ever seen.” I smiled gratefully.
That night was one of the strangest of my life. It was wonderful and horrible all at the same time. No one had ever taken care of me like that before. I wondered if it happened often, considering that Lawrence likely rescued people on a regular basis in his line of work. Juliet fell asleep first and I tossed and turned on that big bed, my mind running and rerunning the week’s events. Dawn came as a great relief to me with the waking house. My mind was is no state to be left to itself.
Juliet and I spent all of Saturday together wandering about her house, reading books, talking, and spending time in the lovely back garden. Lawrence insisted that I take a rest from work as the shock would last a few days. While I felt strange over the subject, I was glad enough to take his advice and enjoy the family’s hospitality. Juliet was kind, her parents were kind, though they didn’t spend much time with us, all the servants were kind, and so was Lawrence.
Sunday morning I was sitting on the window seat in Juliet’s sitting room wearing a dress that I had made for her. She’d insisted that I borrow it. I felt a bit odd, but quite lovely.
“Ella?” Lawrence was standing in the doorway dressed in a black suit, a top hat in his hands. “There’s somewhere special I’d like to take you.”
I rose from my seat. “Are we going to church?” I noticed he wore a light blue caravat and a waste coat of the same material. It drew out his eyes, which again distracted me.
“Not just any church,” He smiled with a twinkle in those blue eyes. “Have you been to hear him? Spurgeon?”
“No!” I wanted to dance with excitement. “I’ve yearned to go!”
“Well, come with me, let us go and hear the prince of preachers!” His face beamed as he beckoned to me.
When we were walking down the hall he said something I’ll never forget. “You know Ella, you don’t have to rely on yourself so much. God is a great God, and He never asks you to live by your own strength.”
I looked up at him with a puzzled expression.
“The Christian life isn’t about rowing your boat; it’s about setting your sails to the winds of the Holy Spirit.” His deep voice sank into me. “But also, it’s not a one man sail boat. It’s a ship. Remember Jesus’ prayer that all who follow Him might be one?”
“Yes,” I struggled to break my gaze and grab the stair rail as we descended to the first floor.
“You’re not alone, Ella. Don’t ever be afraid that you are.” He paused at the foot of the stair and looked at me. “When your father died, God didn’t abandon you to go this alone. There are always people who will listen to your thoughts. And,” he looked at his feet for a moment. “And, Juliet and I are in that number.”
So, what happened to Ella Middleton after that? Almost every story in the world is an unfinished story, merely because The story isn’t finished yet. Christ hasn’t returned, so we can only read a few chapters. That wasn’t the end of my life at all, it was just an episode. But everything changed in that weekend at the Willingham household. Juliet and Lawrence became family to me. I worked for them and my hours changed enough that Aunt Louisa and I visited regularly. But the real question you are all wondering is did I marry Lawrence?
Life isn’t something that happens merely in a chapter. It was several years later. But yes, my name is Ella Willingham.