Word count: 1,538
Thursday 2nd January
We hear a carriage outside the window. Throwing her embroidery to the ground, she drew the heavy, brown curtain aside. I looked up to see what the fuss was., before shaking my head and turning away. As I did so, a brown curl slid our of place and onto my forehead. I pushed it away.
The girl at the window peered through the darkness to get a better look at the man steping out of the cart. He's wearing a black suit, a hat and shoes with a reflection of the moon dancing on them.
"It's father!" the girl turns and runs out of the room, her long blonde hair flowing out over her shoulders as she trips over her blue dress. I set aside my sewing, pick up my red skirt and follow.
The tall man stepped into the house as the blonde girl ran and threw her arms around his neck.
"Abbie, my darling girl! How I've missed you!" Abigail released him from the hug.
"Eliabeth, dear." He held out his arms for an embrace.
A young maid hurried down the hall and picked up the suitcases that had been dumped behind him.
"Ah, Gennie, please put that one in the sitting room?" he pointed to the small trunk she had tucked under her arm. Gennie nodded and hurried away.
"She's at her harp lesson, Father." Abbie answered with the sweetest of smiles.
"Oh yes, good." he paused for a second. "Well let's not block the hallway. It's nearly tea-time and your Uncle Benjamin and Aunty Matilda are coming over for a New Year's dinner. Put on something nice!" as we hurried away, he called out again. "And Abigail, something your mother will approve of please?"
Abigail titles her head back and groaned as she waltzed away.
"How's that new chamber maid of yours Matilda? Was her name Clare?" Mother asked
"Oh yes, her she's doing rather well actually." Matilda nodded.
There was awkward silence at the table, except for the chinking of soup spoons against bowls. Cousin Frederick glared across the table at me with his icy blue eyes that he gets from my grandmother, my mother and Matilda's Mamma. Abbie was gazing out of the window at the rain, streaking across the glass panes.
"Aunty Matilda, did you see what Amelia wore to the Christmas doo at the church hall? What did you think?" Esther restarted the conversation.
"Oh no, the red did not go well with her blonder hair, and you could almost see her ankles!" Matilda cried.
"And red is such a common colour, no, she'd look better in blue. But that emerald dress was beautiful on Ellen. She made it quite exquisite!" mother chipped in.
"The straight neckline-across the shoulder thing is very Venecian. I think it'll be the next big look." I predicted.
"I wish I could have gone." Primrose whispered.
At eleven and thirteen, Primrose and Abbie aren't allowed to go to parties and events. It was a surprise to even hear her talk. Being sixteen, nearly seventeen, Esther and I have been allowed to go to two parties, but not a ball yet, that would wait until our full 'coming out.'
When the meal was over we relocated to the sitting room.
"So how was your New Year celebration with Lord Pengleton?" Benjamin asked my father.
"Oh do tell us father!" Abbie gasped.
Daddy told us about the lunch and dinner he'd had with a Lord up in Suffolk, being careful not to leave out a detail, he even told us the colour of Lord Pengleton's cravat - pale pink. He was observant like that. Most men don't remember things like that, but our father remembered everything, right down to the patterns on the cushions and how tall the candles were.
Lord Pengleton had a big manor house, bigger than ours, and a few acres in the countryside. he wasn't young, but not quite old, with a son who was married with a daughter of his own. He was a respected and much-loved figure. Every year one of the lords held a New Years party and it was somewhat tradition, this year had been Pengleton's turn.
Daddy pulled the suitcase he had asked to be left in here from under the settee and opened it.
"I've gotten you all a little something, of course." he explained.
He produced a little brass broach in the shape on a flower with three red gems in the centre and a green one on the stem. He passed it across the low table to Matilda, who promptly pinned it to her red dress. It worked perfectly with the colours and she kept smiling down at it throughout the evening.
Next, Daddy pulled out two pocket watches and passed the silver one to Benjamin and the bronze to Frederick. There was a butterfly hair clasp for Primrose and a white shawl for my mother, "hand-knitted by the local women" my father insisted, with a ruby pin to hold it together.
But the last three were the best by far. He lifted out an intricately craved glass bottle and gave it to Abbie. She opened it and sniffed it.
"Oh Daddy, it's simply gorgeous!" she squealed.
He presented some low topped, heeled, cream shoes with lace around the top and golden curls embroidered into the side and top to Esther. The heels seemed to sparkle from the inside. Esther thanked him politely and slipped off her old shoes to try them on. They fit perfectly.
Last, he pulled out a pile of dark purple fabric, decorated with silver swirls and flowers. Shaking it out, I could see that it was the most elegant dress I had ever seen. It curved in in all the right places and the skirt fell to create a hoop, so I wouldn't have to pick it up when I walk. The purple fabric was long at the back, so it trailed behind me, and came up to my knees at the front, revealing a silver taffeta petticoat, falling so it just covered my ankles. There were silver bands around the moderate neckline, sleeves and hem.
Everyone was silent, just staring at my dress.
"Oh Daddy..." I gasped, unsure of what else to say. "Thank you!"
It was truly stunning. I couldn't wait to try it on, but now was not the time.
"Abigail, would you care to show Frederick and Primrose our new and improved rose garden?" Abbie scowled at being called her full name, but regained her compsture and faked a smile as she led them away, chattering happily.
"Girls, I think now is a good time to discuss your coming out." Mother started.
"Matilda knows the most qualified stylists and Benjamin meets a lot of young men with his job." Daddy explained.
Uncle Benjamin was a schoolmaster at Saint James' college, so he knew a lot of young men who attended. But they weren't just young men, they were rich young men, with charm and manners, and if not that, at least they had a good education.
"But father, surely we're too young for suitors?" Esther exclaimed.
"Not too young to start meeting people though. No buts!" Mother shot as I made to protest. "You are going to your first ball in two weeks."
There was another silence.
"You'll be seventeen soon, old enough to be legally married! This'll give you a headstart." Matilda soothed. "It'll be fun! I remember when I started going to balls."
She told us how she was so jealous of mother because she was older and came out first, and when she danced around the room when she came home for the first time, they waltzed around together. Two years later she had met Benjamin and they had clicked instantly. At this point she looked over at her husband and smiled.
She told us about how whenever mother came home form her art college up north she told them about this terrible boy who annoyed her so much, picked on her art if she ever got it wrong, but then he saved her artwork from the rain one day and it all went uphill from there.
I took time to analyse my Aunt and Uncle. Bejamin was in his forties or fifties, with think dark hair, slightly thinner each time she saw him. He was an eccentric character, quite charming with all his odd little quirks. It seemed even odder that a person like Matilda would love someone like him, but behind all the prim and proper front, the strict 'Children should be seen and not heard' outer shell, she was soft and gentle, sweet and shy. I could only imgaine what she must have been like as a girl, in wonder at the new world she was entering. She and Benjamin were deeply in love and that's what their marriage was about. I respected them for that.
My parents were done discussing things, and Primrose was due to go and see a school in the morning, meaning they had to be up early, so Uncle Benjamin, Aunt Matilda and Cousin Frederick and Primrose departed, leaving me to contemplate the idea of coming out and marriage and children of my own.