The Golden Thimble
Now that she has gone off and left us, now that she lives high up the
hill, in a great house on the hill, in the castle itself or so
I have been told I am sure that Ella has forgotten all about
us. It certainly seems that way. I heard there was a fancy wedding,
with night after night of costume balls and great feasts. Many villagers
received invitations the mayor, of course, and his family, the
shop-owners, even some of the knights down on their luck. We waited,
day after day, for our invitations. But we received no message, no card,
no summons of any kind. Poor Olga and Lucy were disappointed. They looked
forward to seeing Ella again: Olga because she loved the girl and Lucy
because she was jealous of her. Olga believes only the good about people,
and Lucy only the worst. I think the truth is somewhere in between.
There we sat, night after night, wondering what Ella was doing, when
we would hear from her. My girls chattered hour after hour, but I had
nothing to add to their conversations. I am like that sometimes. When
other people talk and talk, I sit and listen. Or sometimes like
those nights I sit and dream or remember the past.
Sometimes I see the neighbors look at me, wondering if I am a witch.
But I am not. I am just a strong woman who married two weak men. It
is because I buried them both, instead of dying in childbirth, I suppose,
that makes these ignorant town folk wonder about me. No one has ever
asked me anything directly. That is not how life goes on here. I wonder
myself why I outlived both my men.
I was young and pretty once. Oh, how pretty I was. Everyone in the
village thinks that Ella is the most beautiful girl they have ever seen,
but that is because they never knew me in my youth. My own daughters
are pretty enough, and it is true that Ella is lovely. But none of them
could have held a candle to me when I was young. I had more admirers
than the three of them combined. It sounds immodest, but it is true.
And I chose William certainly the handsomest man in our town.
Or any town, to judge by the travelers who wandered through. We had
a good life together certainly as good as we hoped or expected.
It grieved us both that I never produced a son who lived more than a
year. Poor little boys, all three of them lying in the old graveyard,
along with their papa. All the men in William's stock were far from
hardy. He had four older sisters, and his father died the year they
buried his only brother. The day I buried William was the day I buried
most of the love I could ever give. I buried my hopes and dreams for
myself, but not for my little girls.
I found work as a seamstress. I was always handy with a needle, and
I am proud to say that my daughters are as proficient as I. We all three
can sew, knit and weave better than most women we meet. I never could
teach Ella those fine crafts, no matter how hard she tried. Maybe it
is just in the blood. You know how to sew or you do not. And Ella's
family had other skills.
There I was, a young widow with two small girls, eking out a life for
the three of us. It was not the best life, to be sure, but we got along.
William's sisters helped us when they could, but I rarely asked them
for much. They had their own families to provide for. My daughters and
I had a roof over our heads, we had enough to eat, and we always had
clothes to wear. To be sure, many of our dresses were patchwork, made
up of scraps of material left over from garments I had sewn for customers.
But the dresses themselves were stylishly cut and sewn.
Some people say that everything happens as it should, but I am not
so sure of that. There I was in the town of my birth, and there I might
have remained, had it not been for a chance encounter one day with John.
It was a warm summer day, a beautiful, still, sunny day. Usually I sat
inside our small house or out in back, away from the road, to do my
sewing. I had enough work to keep me going and a small sign in front,
for passers-by or newcomers to see. In the back, I could concentrate,
not be disturbed by anyone going past. And it was cleaner in the back,
away from the dust of the road. But that day was so still, I knew that
the dust would not blow into my work. And for some reason I felt restless.
I felt like sitting in the front, watching the people go by. I spread
an old cloth down, to keep my work clean and seated Olga and Lucy on
either side of me, with their own little patches of cloth to work on.
There we sat, nodding and smiling at passersby, chatting with neighbors
or even strangers attracted by the sight of the three of us, sitting
in the sun, sewing away, clad in our stylishly-cut patchwork dresses.
It was in between a summer fair and our own market day. Most visitors
to the fair had already left, and the farmers had not yet arrived to
set up the market. A few traveling merchants had stayed behind, hoping
to sell their remaining goods at our market. Some of them passed by
our little cottage. I knew they were merchants because they were dressed
so well. If they could afford to stay on in an inn for a day or two,
they were among the more prosperous.
After a while, I noticed that one man neither old or young,
neither tall nor short, neither handsome nor ugly was walking
past us at regular intervals. At some point Olga and Lucy began giggling.
Looking up, I saw that the man had stopped and was making faces at my
daughters. As soon as our eyes met, he stopped and bowed his head to
"Forgive me, madam," he said, "but your two girls reminded
me so much of my own little girl that I could not resist stopping and
even teasing them."
I smiled and nodded and returned to my work. I had just finished hemming
a skirt when, once again, I heard Olga and Lucy giggle. This time the
man gave me a courtly bow and presented me with a bouquet of wild flowers.
That was so unusual that I stopped working entirely and stared at him.
"Thank you," I finally said. "I shall put these in a
jar immediately." I gathered my work, the girls and the flowers
and almost ran into the cottage. Really, I did not know what to think!
After that meeting, I began attending the local fairs and market days
more diligently. Sometimes I saw my merchant friend; sometimes I did
not. His name was John, he told me, and he lived several towns away.
He dealt in cloths and yarns of all kinds some quite fine, others
more of workaday materials. He always had bargains for me and would
find little trinkets to delight my girls: buttons, small polished rocks,
scraps of fine lace and velvet. It was pleasant to chat with him, and
I always made sure to inquire after his wife and daughter. He wife was
sickly, he told me, and the little girl missed her father dreadfully
when he left on his trips. So I began sending him home with small gifts
of my own: berries or apples or vegetables from my own small garden
in season, a bit of soup or bread to take back as a treat for his family.
He always thanked me graciously and said that his wife and daughter
enjoyed the small gifts.
"Well, it is the least I can do," I interrupted him. "After
all, I know you sell to me at a great bargain. I could never afford
to buy your wares at the prices you get from others."
And so went our harmless friendship. I had barely realized how much
I looked forward to seeing my new friend when I realized one day that
I had not seen him for several months.
That seemed odd, but I thought that perhaps he had taken up a new route
somewhere. Or maybe he was in my mind more than I in his. That very
idea stopped me short! I considered myself a good, upright woman
not one to hanker over another woman's man. I determined to get John
out of my mind, but that proved more difficult than I had thought. For
one thing, I still had to buy cloth on occasion and now it cost me more
than before. When I visited the marketplace, I noticed all the little
trinkets and toys and dolls that I knew Olga and Lucy would love to
play with. But I could not afford to buy them any. And they, poor dears,
were more disappointed than before John had appeared in our lives. Now
they wondered why they no longer got little gifts as often as before.
Well, as my old grandmother used to say, time passes on, and so must
I. And so the time passed just as it had before I had met John. One
evening when I was making dinner for the three of us, there came a knock
at my door. An odd time for a visitor, I remember thinking as I headed
to the door. When I opened it, there stood John, just as well-dressed
as before, but looking more somber than I had ever seen him. I just
stood there, starting at him as if he were a ghost or some fantastic
creature that the old women tell stories about. I recovered my manners
and asked him to join us. The girls were delighted to see John again.
They jumped up and down and prattled on and on about how much they had
missed him and what exciting market days he had missed and how much
they had grown since he had seen them last. They ran around the small
cottage, finding countless treasures for him to admire: new dresses
and aprons I had sewn for them, their own attempts at sewing, napkins
they had woven, flowers from the garden they had dried, birds' nests
and stones and feathers they had found on their wanderings. By the time
they had finished showing him everything, our stew was on the table,
and we all sat down to eat.
All through the meal and afterwards they kept chattering telling
John story after story of what they thought and feared had become of
him since we all last met. The more they talked, the more embarrassed
I became. I had had no idea the girls had missed John so much. And what,
I wondered, could he think of me-a widow whose daughters were all worked
up over another woman's man? Finally, I found my voice and told the
girls it was time they went to bed. Most evenings this was no problem.
They were so tired from all their activities that they often fell asleep
at the table. Some nights I had to tell them stories to get them to
fall asleep, but that was only in the dead of winter, when the days
are so short and the nights so long that we often had as much energy
at night as we did during the day.