Two weeks later the maids were in a frenzy, cleaning and re-cleaning the rooms, scrubbing the kitchen and washrooms until they sparkled, making the beds and fluffing the pillows. Mary Ellen was overseeing the work, a grim look on her face and her eyes pinched. When I asked her what was happening she just forced a smile on her face and told me my daddy was bringing home a surprise. I could tell she didn’t approve of this surprise by the way she gritted her teeth when she said it.
I snuck outside through the service door when Marry Ellen wasn’t watching to escape the meticulous maids and to visit my tree. The dogwood was up to my chest now, and pretty white blossoms were opening. I marveled for a moment at how fast it seemed to be growing then sat in the scanty shadow cast by the tree and leaned my head softly against the trunk, thinking about my mother and the way she would wrap her arms around me and stroke my hair. I smiled as I remembered how one day she had been remarking about how blond it was. “My dear! Where on Earth did you get such pretty blond hair!” she had said, sweeping me up in her arms. I remember giggling as she swung me around in circles and how we collapsed laughing on the floor. Then my father had come in the room, his eyes twinkling as he took in our figures sprawled on the floor.
I sighed as a wave of sadness over my mother’s passing threatened to engulf me. I bit my lip and thrust my chin out to hold back the tears. “Ella!” I heard someone call. I ignored it. “Ella, child, come on now, you must get ready for your father’s arrival!”
I sighed again and stood up. Mary Ellen always wanted me to look presentable for my father. I knew my father wouldn’t care if I turned up in just my skin, but Mary Ellen always would. I dusted my skirts off then traipsed my way through the orchard and back to the house, holding my head high.
Mary Ellen was standing in the doorway to the kitchen. She gave me an appraising look then nodded and ushered me in the house. She grabbed my arm and steered me into my bedroom.
“Mary Ellen, what is daddy bringing home?” I asked again. She paused in her search through my closet and sighed. “A very lovely surprise, I’m sure,” she said turning to face me. I didn’t believe her. She turned back to my closet and pulled out a lovely orange dress my mother had made for me with ribbons and little beads. She eyed it carefully then turned back to face me. She held it up to my face then nodded in a satisfied way. “Yes, this will do. Alice!”
Alice, a maid not much older than me with wildly curly orange hair rushed into the room and curtsied. “Yes ma’am?” she said while brushing a curl behind her ear.
Marry Ellen nodded at me. “Help me dress her, please.”
Alice curtsied again then rushed over to me and helped me pull the old faded blue dress over my head. Marry Ellen then pulled the lovely orange one on. The smooth silky fabric felt nice against my skin. Alice fastened the back up the grabbed a brush off my bureau and began dragging it through my hair. She sighed in envy. “Your hair is gorgeous,” she said. I smiled. “Thank you,” I said quietly.
I hear the sound of a carriage approaching through my opened window. Mary Ellen shrieked. “They’re here!”
I scrunched my brow in confusion, wondering who ‘they’ were then winced as Alice pulled my hair too tight into an orange ribbon. “Hurry, hurry, hurry,” Mary Ellen said, wringing her hands and almost dancing in anticipation, or was it frustration? When Alice was done Mary Ellen grabbed my arm and steered me back down the stairs and parked me in front of the door. She smoothed her skirt then looked at me. “Don’t slouch, child,” she said sternly, though not unkindly, while brushing a stay hair back up into the ribbon. She gave me an encouraging smile, and then the door opened.
Read the first chapter here.