The Golden Thimble
But this evening the girls did not rush off to bed when
I told them to. They raced around, finding more treasures for John to
admire, telling him more stories of what he had missed. I knew that
no story of fairy princesses or ogres or giants would be half so interesting
as John's return, so I let them chatter on for a while. Finally I insisted
that they leave the room. They did so reluctantly, turning back again
and again to wave and dance and blow small kisses to John.
Again I was embarrassed, but John only smiled. "My
own little Ella is like that, too," he said. "Whenever I come
home from a trip, she dances and prattles and insists on telling me
everything that has happened." He stopped and sighed. He stood
up and went over to look out the small window.
"Well," I said, "I suppose you have a lot
of work to do before the market opens."
"Yes," he replied. But he just stood, staring
out the window.
"If there is anything I can do to make market day
easier for you," I said, "please tell me."
"Yes," said John. "There is." He turned
around finally and walked toward me. "The truth is, Ursula,"
he began and stopped. I looked at him, surprised. He had always called
me Mistress Weaver before. "The truth is," he began again.
"Well, it is like this. You know my wife was sickly, of course."
"Yes," I said. "She is better now, I hope?"
"Well," said John. "She is better off perhaps.
She is in a better place than this cold world."
"Oh, my dear," I said. "When did this happen?"
"She died six months ago," replied John. "And
it has been very hard for me and for Ella, too. Poor girl, life without
her mother will never be the same. And when I have to travel, it is
as if she is without father and mother."
"Yes," I said. "I can understand that.
Poor little thing. Please, when you see her, tell her "
John just went on talking as if I had not said a word.
"So I thought I wondered..." He stopped and looked
at me, shaking his head a little. "It is amazing to me," he
said, "how a woman as beautiful as you are can also be so good
and kind. What I mean to say is this." He reached inside a pocket
and brought out a small golden thimble. Then he took my hand and put
it on my finger, where it fit perfectly. I turned my finger this way
and that. Truly, I felt like giggling and prancing about like one of
"Do you like it?" John asked.
"Oh my, yes," I replied. "That something
can be handsome and useful all at once why, what a clever thing
for someone to fashion."
"Yes," John said. "Is that not so? I asked
a goldsmith friend of mine to make it up for me. But what I really wanted
to ask you was this. I would like you to What if the next time
I visit your town, I bring you a gold ring to replace the thimble?"
"Oh, no," I said, looking down and admiring
my new gift again. "This thimble is quite artful. It is like nothing
I have ever owned or even seen before. It is so much more practical
than a ring would be."
I heard a strange sound and looked up to see that John
was nearly exploding with laughter.
"My dear," he said, "my dear, dear Ursula.
How can it be that a woman, a beautiful woman who has raised two children,
can still be so innocent? All right, I will not replace one golden trinket
with another. But the next time I come, if I may indeed come again,
I shall bring you a gold ring which you can wear next to your new thimble."
"Oh," I replied. "That would be quite nice
of you, but might people not think "
"Exactly what I want them to think," replied
John. "If you will agree, begin packing tomorrow and plan our wedding
day. Once you are my wife, you and your daughters will come and live
with me and Ella. If you agree."
I stood for a moment, at a complete loss for words. What
a fool I was sometimes. Of course, John had returned a day before market
day, with a gift for me, had come by around suppertime all to ask me
one question. I answered yes before he had another moment in which to
change his mind.
The next day I began packing up my possessions. I went
to visit William's sisters, bringing them each keepsakes of their brother.
That was hard and pleasant at the same time. We laughed and cried over
old memories. Each of those good women found small gifts to give me
and my daughters to help us start our new lives. "And also,"
said William's oldest sister, "so that you will remember us after
"I could never forget all your kindness," I
replied. And that was true. I never have forgotten those four good women.
I sold most of my furniture to a neighbor woman and packed
my sewing supplies and crockery. I gave away Olga and Lucy's outgrown
dresses and shoes to a poor family in town. A few ragged blankets I
draped over the shoulder of the town's beggars. At the end, there were
piles of broken dishes, cracked mugs, scraps of cloth that even I could
no longer sew into anything.
In between the packing and cleaning I made new dresses
for myself and the girls out of a bolt of cloth that John had given
me. I think I never enjoyed sewing so much as I did making those three
matching dresses. I kept admiring the cloth and my new gold thimble,
and I sang while I worked. At the end, there was enough cloth left over
for one more dress, so I quickly cut and sewed a dress for Ella. I even
found enough wool in the cottage to make four new shawls for all of
John returned, as he had promised, with a gold ring for
me. We were married the next day, then packed up all our belongings
and set off for our new home. Olga and Lucy were delighted by the entire
adventure. They chattered merrily the entire trip and pointed out all
sights we passed. They counted sheep and cows and horses, commented
on the other travelers we passed and sometimes sang to pass the time.
What a merry journey we four had! The weather was perfect for travel,
and John knew the most delightful spots to stop whenever we needed to
stretch our legs or refresh ourselves. I felt perfectly happy and carefree.
When we reached our destination, our new home, out came
little Ella, dancing straight into her father's arm, chattering as rapidly
as my own two girls. She seemed not to notice the three of us, but spoke
only to her father as the rest of us unloaded his wagon. Even as John
showed us to our new rooms, Ella ignored us and talked only to her father.
Only at dinner did she quiet down long enough to be introduced
to us. She nodded quickly and would have continued to ignore us had
I not presented her with her new dress and shawl. She fingered the material
and would have lain them aside. But John exclaimed over the work I had
put into the articles. "You are the most cunning seamstress, Ursula,"
he said. "And look, little Ella, you have a dress and shawl to
match your new mother and sisters."
She looked up then. "My new stepmother and stepsisters,"
John just smiled the more at her. "I told you she
was clever," he said. "Tomorrow we will invite the neighbors
over to celebrate with us. All four of you will wear your new clothes.
How proud I will be of my four lovely women!"
The next day we did indeed don our finery. My girls and
I were delighted to be able to wear again our brand-new dresses made
out of whole cloth. The four of us looked quite fetching. It is true
that Ella spent a bit of time wriggling around in her new clothes, pulling
her sleeves up and down, smoothing the bodice, lifting the hem whenever
she walked from one spot to another. If a customer had acted so, I would
have been indignant. That dress fitted her as perfectly as ever a garment
could. But then I stopped myself and pitied the girl instead. Poor thing,
I thought, her mother dead not even a year, and here she suddenly has
a whole new family whom she had never seen before. Perhaps her own sweet
mother had sewn all her dresses out of fine stuff such as this and made
them all more to her liking. Later I learned that Ella's mother, like
Ella herself, had never been handy with a needle. She had sent material
out to be sewn by the town seamstress, a woman far less competent than