“Now, by the authority vested in me by the Colony of Connecticut, I declare that Oliver and Mary are man and wife. Therefore what God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.”
The bride stood facing the magistrate and the roaring fireplace, and as the momentous words were spoken raised a glowing face to her young bridegroom. Her cheeks, naturally a healthy pink, blushed a deeper rose from the warmth of the room and the excitement of the moment, and her brown eyes lit up as if kindled by the blaze itself. Those attending the ceremony could not all see her face, but they could sense the tension in the petite figure in its best yellow silk gown, the slightly paler yellow silk curls escaping out of the cap and arraying across her shoulders, and when the new husband was told to kiss his young wife, instead of a decorous peck she fell into his arms, and the newly married pair crowned the wedding with an enraptured embrace.
Slightly behind the bride and to her right Mary’s eldest sister Ellen stood watching as bridesmaid. Dressed in her best gown, a new rose-colored brocaded silk, she might have been a dressmaker’s mannequin, for she had remained utterly motionless during the whole proceeding. Always fair-skinned, today the paleness of her face contrasted strikingly with her dark, nearly black hair, pulled severely back from her face and hidden under a small shaped cap trimmed with lace. Small gloved hands clasped each other at waist level, tightening imperceptibly as the pronouncement of marriage was spoken, and when the bride and groom kissed her expressive dark eyes lowered their gaze to her gloves, as if the intimacy of the moment were more than she cared to witness.
Mary and Oliver at last broke apart and turned to receive the congratulations of their families and well-wishers. The first to come forward was the bride’s father, Justin Long, a tall, erect, dignified figure in his best coat and knee breeches, with powder covering the flecks of gray in his straight dark hair. He bent to kiss his pretty daughter’s cheek, then shook the hand of his new son-in-law. His wife Johanna followed close on his elbow, blinking back tears at the same time that she attempted to laugh. Then the silent, solemn parlor burst into small explosions of talk and laughter, as one guest remarked to another on the beauty of the bride, the good fortune of the groom, and weren’t they a lovely couple? Wasn’t this the happiest occasion anyone could remember?
Ellen Long sidled away from the happy couple and, when no one seemed to be looking in her direction, slipped out the door, through the hall and into the kitchen, where the maidservant, Molly, was already setting out the food for the guests.
“Well, they really went ahead and did it,” Molly declared, licking sugar from her fingers as she arranged pastries on a platter. “I kept thinking maybe at the last minute someone would change his mind, but they actually did do it.”
“I knew they would,” Ellen replied, turning away to the cider keg to fill the noggins that had been laid out in preparation. “I knew he wouldn’t change his mind.”
“Huh!” Molly retorted. “Well, I hope they may be very happy together.”
Ellen did not reply, but turned toward the door as her sister Lydia hurried in, followed by a couple of the younger children.
“There you are—I knew I’d find you here! Mother asked if I would help get the food set out, so she could spend a few minutes with the guests first. Where are we putting everything? In the hall, I guess—I saw the board set up there.”
“Aye,” Ellen replied. “Mary wants to dance later, and Mother thought it would be easier to clear the hall while everyone is dancing in the parlor.”
“That makes sense. Let me get that platter of venison first. Did you see my stewed apples? Oliver asked me to make them because they’re his favorite. Here, Jenny, see if you can carry these noggins out to the board. Be very careful; don’t spill. Here, Elisabeth, you take these. Get those boys to help too; if won’t hurt them any, and it will keep them out of trouble.”
Bustling around the kitchen, Lydia organized the food and gave everyone directions, while Ellen silently set platters out and made trips back and forth to the hall. When the board was finally loaded with delicious sights and tantalizing smells, the family and their guests crowded into the hall while Justin Long asked the blessing on the food.
“And we pray that you will bless the marriage that has occurred here today, and that this young couple will honor you in all they do every day of their lives…”
Ellen took her place toward the end of the line and when her plate was full found a seat with several of the other young women.
“This punch is delicious,” Nan declared as she sipped from the three-quart “thribble-bowl” and passed it on to Lydia. One of Ellen’s best friends, she was a rather plain, red-haired, freckle-faced girl, but good-natured and cheerful, and newly married herself.
“Did you try any of this pumpkin pie?” Lydia asked, taking another bite. “My mother’s is better than anyone’s I know. I’ve tried to follow her directions, but mine never turns out the same.”
“I took a piece, but I don’t believe I can finish it,” Nan said.
“Oh, can I have it then? Mmm, delicious. I could eat the whole pie.”
“Lydia’s eating for two,” Rochelle laughed. “Maybe three, as big as she is.”
“That’s the best thing about breeding—I can eat as much as I want!”
Ellen glanced at her sister’s rotund figure. Lydia would turn twenty in April and would give birth to her first baby the same month. She had always liked to eat and during her pregnancy her appetite seemed limitless. Ellen doubted that she would ever be slender again.
“I’m looking forward to that myself.”
The circle of women fell silent as everyone turned to stare at Nan.
“Nan! Are you…?”
“Do you really mean…?”
“I thought you were acting rather peculiar!”
Nan giggled and blushed darkly to her red hairline.
“I’ve thought so for awhile—but I wasn’t sure until this week. Shh—don’t tell anyone, girls—I don’t want the whole world to know already!”
The group of young women dissolved in whispers and giggles, glancing over their shoulders to be sure no one in the room had overheard or noticed their excitement.
“When do you think it will come?” Rochelle asked. A sturdy, forthright young lady with a decided chin, a straight nose, and wide-set green eyes in a direct gaze, she was one of the few unmarried women in the group, and not at all ashamed of it. Her single status had allowed her to travel from her home north of New York to visit her brother and sister-in-law in Connecticut, and she seemed determined to enjoy her freedom as long as it lasted.
“The end of September I think, if I’ve figured correctly. I haven’t been feeling too sick yet, but ’tis the strangest thing: I usually like poultry, and now I can’t abide the thought of it. Instead I crave clams and oysters, which I usually dislike.”
The conversation turned on the vagaries of pregnancy, to which Ellen could relate secondhand. Johanna, who was actually stepmother to Ellen, Lydia, and Mary, had become one of the leading midwives in the town, and during the last several years Ellen had been assisting her. So although she had no firsthand experience of childbirth, she was actually fairly well informed.
“I suppose that you will have your mother deliver you?” Nan asked Lydia.
“My mother—or Ellen, perhaps.” Lydia threw a smile at her older sister.
“Me!” Ellen laughed. “I think you are brave, Lydia.”
“But you have delivered babies before.”
“Only once alone, and ’twas an easy birth.”
“Mine will be an easy birth,” Lydia boasted. “I have determined.”
“But Ellen won’t be here then,” Rochelle exclaimed. “She will be with me in New York!”
Rochelle was the sister of Lydia’s husband Simon Basset. Although she had been spending the winter in her brother’s home, during the past weeks she had developed a friendship with Ellen, and now spent a good portion of her time at the Long household as well. In the last several days she had conceived a plan to take Ellen with her when she returned to New York and was busy trying to persuade her new friend to agree.
“You should stay here till April,” Nan urged. “Don’t you want to see your new niece or nephew?”
“I would stay,” Rochelle explained rapidly, “but my sister is due around the same time, and when I left I promised to return before the baby comes.”
“We know what the real reason is,” Lydia jibed. “Rochelle can’t wait to get home to her beau, that handsome Paul she is always talking about.”
Rochelle smiled self-consciously, and all the girls laughed.
“I’m surprised you were willing to leave so soon after meeting him,” Ellen said, voicing a question she had wondered about from time to time.
“Indeed,” Nan agreed. “If he is as handsome as you say, he might have found a new sweetheart by time you return.”
“Oh! I am not at all worried about that! Constancy is what I particularly value in a man, and one who cannot keep his eyes from other women for two months or three, is hardly worth a regret. Besides,” she added with a smile and a shrug, “Paul is really not the ladies’ man; he is more the intellectual sort, and I vow he thinks less of his appearance than any man living.”
Lydia rolled her eyes and muttered, “Oh, yes! Not only handsome, but brilliant and modest as well! Well, we can’t all expect Rochelle’s good fortune.”
Ellen giggled, and Rochelle gave her sister-in-law a glance of tolerant superiority.
“He is brilliant,” she declared, “although I don’t expect you to believe it. He wanted to be an architect back in France, but he had to leave because of the Huguenot trouble there. But he still designed bridges and buildings just for the pleasure of it. And his English is incredibly good, even though he barely spoke any when he left France. I think he must have a gift for languages.”
“And so he works as a schoolmaster,” Lydia mocked good-naturedly. Schoolmasters were not highly respected in colonial society.
“He won’t be a schoolmaster forever,” Rochelle retorted, and Ellen thought she was starting to become incensed. “Besides, he likes teaching. He’s a good teacher.”
“Maybe I’ll get to meet him soon,” Ellen interposed, “if I come to New York.”
Rochelle brightened at her words. “Of course you’ll come! Why not?”
“I hate to leave my mother with no help,” Ellen confessed. “Especially now that Mary is leaving. The little girls are too young to do much around the house.”
“She has the servant,” Rochelle pointed out. “Besides, she can’t expect to keep you forever. If you had married she would have lost you anyway.”
A moment of silence greeted this remark. Nan threw a sympathetic glance at Ellen, and Lydia kicked Rochelle, who appeared not to notice.
“Ellen is too unselfish for her own good,” Lydia said carelessly. “If it were myself, now, I’d say, ‘Mama, Papa, I am leaving for New York with Rochelle, please don’t wear yourselves out while I am gone.’ But I do wish you would go, Ellen, because you are a better judge of brilliance than Rochelle, and you can tell us the truth about Paul Dupree.”
The women all laughed, and the tension in the circle dissipated.
“And I’ll also tell you if he is really as good-looking as Rochelle thinks,” Ellen added.
“I don’t need you for that!” Rochelle declared. “I’m as fine a judge of good looks in a man as you or Lydia or any other woman!”
The guests had finished eating by then and were beginning to mill around the parlor. Ellen and Lydia rose to help collect plates and clear the board when they saw Mary and Oliver, hand in hand, sweep through the parlor door.
Mary called out, “Time for dancing, everyone! Remember, Papa, you promised to play the fiddle for us!”
“We won’t all be able to dance,” Nan murmured. “There isn’t room and besides, there aren’t enough men.”
“There’s your cousin Peter,” Rochelle said. “Call him over, Lydia, and tell him I’ll honor him with a dance.”
Ellen glanced around the parlor, at the forest of colorful silk gowns and knee breeches, and saw Mary and Oliver heading up the set of country dances, Mary looking eagerly around the room for other couples to join them. Ellen saw Oliver slide his hand around Mary’s waist and lean close to whisper in her ear.
The parlor suddenly seemed hot and crowded. She saw Rochelle and Peter heading for the dance, followed by Lydia and Simon. Nan had turned away and was chatting with some of Mary’s friends.
Ellen slipped along the wall and out of the parlor door into the hall, which was momentarily deserted except for Molly, clearing away the empty platters. Ellen ignored Molly and headed for the enclosed staircase in the corner of the hall. She sat on one of the lower steps in the darkness with the flickering light from the fireplace dancing and retreating through the half-open doorway.
It was cold in the staircase, for the warmth of the fire did not penetrate so far on a February evening. Ellen wrapped her arms around herself to still her shivering. In spite of the cold it felt good to be alone, to be away from the eyes, to be relieved of the necessity to talk and smile and behave as normal. She leaned her head against her palms and pressed her fingertips into her temples. She could feel the beginning of a headache coming on.
Molly had finished loading up the plates and platters and Ellen heard her pass through into the kitchen. For a moment the hall was silent, with only the strains of fiddle music wafting through the wall from the parlor. Then the parlor door opened again and a whisper of silken petticoats and the murmur of female voices floated into the stairwell. Several young women were clearly more interested in gossip than dancing, and she heard them seat themselves on the bench directly before the fire.
“Brrr—I’m freezing, this fire feels good.”
“At least there’s no snowstorm like last weekend.”
“Aye, the weather cleared up nicely for the wedding.”
“I’m surprised Mary didn’t wait till spring. It would have been more pleasant outdoors.”
“Why should they wait?” laughed the first woman, whom Ellen recognized as Abigail Dudley. “What else is there to do all winter but snuggle in bed and warm each other?”
There was a round of laughter, and Ellen shrank back into the staircase, trying to be as still as possible. It would look odd if someone glanced up the stairs and saw her sitting there alone. Perhaps she should stand up, go into the hall, and pretend to have come down from her room. Then she heard Abigail speak again.
“Well, this is the strangest wedding I’ve ever seen.”
“What do you mean?” That was Oliver’s sister Rhoda.
“What do I mean? How often do you see a girl marry her sister’s lover while her sister stands up as her bridesmaid? You don’t think that is strange?”
“She didn’t seem to mind. She certainly looked cool as a cucumber standing there with them.”
“Poor Ellen!” That was Nan’s voice. “Of course she minded! I’m sure she’s broken-hearted. I was so afraid she would burst into tears or something, during the ceremony, and wouldn’t that be dreadful?”
“If my sister had done such a thing to me, I’d never speak to her again, let alone come to the wedding,” Abigail declared.
“I know what you mean,” Rhoda said, sounding troubled. “We were all surprised, Mama and Papa as well, when Oliver said he was going to marry Mary after courting Ellen for so long. But Oliver said that he and Ellen were more like brother and sister, after so many years, and Mary is the one he really loves.”
“He thought they were brother and sister,” Nan put in heatedly. “That doesn’t mean Ellen thought so.”
“That’s all nonsense,” Abigail added decidedly. “The worst part is that he took the best years of her life, made it almost impossible for her to find someone else. She almost twenty-five, isn’t she? She’s sure to be an old maid now.”
“She’s twenty-two,” Nan said.
“And such a bluestocking. Men really don’t care for that sort.”
“Oliver never seemed to mind,” Rhoda commented. “They were always talking about theology and history and such.”
“He didn’t mind,” Abigail laughed, “but you see who he married in the end. Mary’s no bluestocking, that’s for sure.”
“No, she’s so pretty and sweet, so feminine. I can see why Oliver likes her.”
“I still think he did wrong by Ellen,” Nan mourned. “Do you really think she’ll be an old maid now?”
“Oliver was the perfect match for her. If he didn’t take her I can’t imagine who would.”
The parlor door opened again to admit another group, and the three friends fell silent. Ellen huddled on the dark steps and wished she could disappear. She pressed her hands against her chest and felt the loud thumping of her heart; her face felt hot, and her hands icy cold. Her headache was pounding away in earnest now.
The women began to talk about more mundane matters, but Ellen was no longer listening. She wanted to run into the hall and yell, “I’m only twenty-one!” But in June she would be twenty-two and it would be ridiculous to quibble over so small an error, when every other word they had spoken was perfectly true.
She could not dispute the label of bluestocking, for she had been called the same by plenty of people and had always shrugged it off. Her own brothers, even Samuel who liked to read himself, teased her about her erudite qualities. And her sisters never displayed the interest in education that she possessed in abundance. Lydia was fond of cooking and working in her garden, both housewifely qualities. Mary could play simple tunes on the spinet and was the best dancer in town, the one all the boys vied for. But Ellen was the one who borrowed her father’s theology books when she was thirteen, who hurt her eyes reading by candlelight, who parsed Latin nouns in her head at night to fall asleep, and practiced speaking French to her brother-in-law Simon for the sheer enjoyment of it. Fortunately—or unfortunately, perhaps—her father did not share the prevalent prejudice against educated women and allowed, nay, encouraged her to study as much as she chose.
She couldn’t count how many times she had rejoiced in her good fortune in finding a man like Oliver, a man who appeared to enjoy this particular trait of hers. They had been best friends and companions since their teen years, always talking, reading, taking walks together, and writing letters when he was away at the new college in Connecticut called Yale. There had been a tacit understanding that they would marry eventually when Oliver finished his studies and was established in a position. It had never occurred to Ellen that the relationship, which to her seemed ideal in every way, may have been lacking the romance and excitement he wished for.
She squeezed her eyes shut tight, but could not block out the memory of the day she had questioned Oliver about his sudden more-than-brotherly friendliness to Mary. Surely, she reasoned, he did not realize how his behavior appeared to others who did not know him as well as she did. Surely he did not mean to encourage Mary, who was after all young and high-spirited and not in the habit of weighing her actions carefully. But instead of the reassurance that she longed for, that she fully expected, he had admitted to her that his feelings for Mary had grown beyond anything he wanted—beyond, in fact, the comfortable brother-sister relationship he shared with Ellen.
What could she do, under the circumstances, but release him from any half-promises and tell him to be happy with Mary? She refused to cry or beg or even remonstrate with Mary, who was raised to the skies by Oliver’s devotion. But she would never forget that stunning blow, doubly painful as it was so unexpected. Pride had carried her through the months to this day, through the gossip of the town, the pity of her friends, Mary’s ecstasy, the preparations for a wedding that would now be Mary’s instead of her own. She had endured, but now, huddled alone in the chilly dark stairs, she had a sudden desperate urge to escape.
The music from the parlor had stopped and now she realized that everyone was heading through the hall to the front door. She stood up, stretching her cramped limbs, and shivered violently. She realized suddenly how cold she was.
In the hall Lydia and Rochelle were wrapping themselves in their cloaks, accompanied by Simon Basset and Ellen’s brother Samuel and her cousin Peter.
“Everyone is leaving?” she asked, glancing toward the door where guests were disappearing.
“The procession is starting,” Rochelle told her, “we’re taking Mary and Oliver to their new house. Hurry and get your cloak, Ellen, or you’ll miss it.”
“I’ll catch up,” Ellen temporized. “Does Mother know you boys are going?”
“Oh, Ellen, don’t spoil it,” Peter said. “We’re old enough.”
“We’ll send them home before we put the bride and groom to bed,” Simon grinned, poking his brother-in-law. “No reason to put ideas in young minds.”
“Hurry and get your cloak, Ellen,” Rochelle urged. “We’ll wait.”
Ellen glanced around the circle of eager faces. Samuel and Peter were laughing at Simon’s remark. “Oh, I think I’d better stay and help Mother clean up.”
Rochelle opened her mouth to protest, but Lydia threw her a warning glare. “Oh, if you want,” she shrugged. “But make sure you ask your mother about coming to New York with me. I have my heart set on it.”
“Yes,” Ellen said. “Yes, I will ask her.”
* * *
Johanna stood at the basin in the kitchen washing the mountain of noggins, trenchers, plates, and bowls while Molly the maidservant dried and put them all away. She heard the last of her children’s voices in the hall, laughter, Rochelle’s voice rising above the rest calling Ellen, an inaudible reply. Then the front door opened, and the voices and footsteps receded down the path to Mary and Oliver’s new home. From farther down the road she could hear the raucous shouts of the young men indulging in the usual pranks that accompanied a wedding. Perhaps they were trying to kidnap the bride and make her husband hunt for her. Johanna smiled briefly, the festivities bringing to her mind her own wedding which had certainly been far different from this one.
Nearly sixteen years had passed since Johanna had first come to join the Long family, first as an indentured servant, then as a second wife to Justin Long and stepmother to his three daughters. Her once fair hair had darkened to a golden brown, and many years of comfortable living, hearty cooking, and sporadic childbearing had left her rather plump, but in other way she was still the cheerful, energetic, high-spirited girl she remembered from that earlier phase of her life. The years had treated her well; she had been fortunate as well as blessed, but watching the bride and groom today she was suddenly thankful that she was no longer eighteen, young and callow and vulnerable.
This wedding had been difficult for everyone in the family, and Johanna felt relieved that it was over. Odd to think that Oliver had nearly been part of the family for years, for he and Ellen had been keeping company since they were eighteen and seventeen respectively. Too young at that age to be planning marriage, they had stayed close all the years that Oliver was getting his education and establishing himself in his profession. And everything had proceeded exactly as planned: the school was completed, the desirable position obtained—except when the time came to the wedding he had asked for the hand of the younger sister instead of her sister.
Johanna shuddered to remember the scene that transpired that day. Justin was so angry he almost refused to give his permission at all. Then it was Mary’s turn to cry, “Papa has always loved Ellen best.” A charge that Johanna found somewhat difficult to refute, for, though she knew Justin loved all his children, he had a special closeness with his firstborn.
In the end Johanna herself intervened on Mary’s behalf and Justin agreed to the marriage. It seemed pointless to refuse forever; they could not force Oliver to love Ellen if his heart was set on Mary. Ellen’s quiet, seemingly indifferent acceptance of the situation eased her parents’ dismay. So they arranged the marriage settlement, filled a chestful of linens for the new house, and invited guests to the ceremony. And now it was over and the new bride and groom were headed for their new house to be bedded for their first night.
The kitchen door opened and Ellen entered alone. Johanna, looking up from the dishes, searched her stepdaughter’s face and found it pale, composed, and remote—the same expression she had worn for days. Johanna thought, if I were in her shoes, I’d be crying and throwing things, but that’s never been her way.
Trying to sound cheerful she said, “You didn’t go with the others?”
“Nay,” Ellen said evenly. “I thought you would need help cleaning up.”
“Just these dishes to finish.” Johanna glanced at Molly and noticed the girl’s wistful expression. She knew from experience how it felt to be a servant, doing all the work and watching all the fun. “Run along, Molly, and join the young people. We’re almost done anyway.”
Molly immediately brightened and, tossing the towel onto the table, skipped out the door. Ellen slowly picked it up and came to join her stepmother. For several moments they worked in silence.
“Your father and I danced together tonight,” Johanna said brightly. “’Tis been a long time since we’ve had the opportunity. I’ll never forget the first time, the night he asked me to marry him. I was so completely taken by surprise. And whenever we dance together I remember that night.”
She glanced at Ellen’s still profile. “I had my struggles then too,” she added gently. “Everyone does, in one form or another. And believe it or not, Mary and Oliver will have theirs. Life doesn’t treat anyone with kid gloves.”
Ellen nodded rather absently, and Johanna could not tell how much she had been listening. After a moment she added, “Your father and I—we’re proud of the way you have handled this. We know it can’t be easy for you.”
Ellen shrugged slightly. “It was meant to be, I suppose. If Mary can make him happy, that is the important thing.”
Johanna opened her mouth to speak again, then stopped and sighed. For a moment Ellen continued drying the dishes in silence, then spoke in a brighter tone.
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something, Mother, but with the wedding and all I haven’t had the chance. Rochelle keeps asking me to go to New York with her, when she returns next week. My only hesitation is that it would leave you without any help at all here.”
“I know she had discussed it with you,” Johanna said, and sighed again. Ellen had been her right hand for years, both in caring for the younger ones and lately in her midwifery work. But in another way Rochelle’s invitation was providential. A chance to travel, to see new places, meet new people, and avoid Mary’s newly wedded bliss. Too bad the chance didn’t come six months ago, but now was better than never.
Johanna always thought of her children in groups of three. First were the three girls inherited from Justin’s first marriage, all young women now. Next came three boys: her nephew Peter, orphaned as a baby and raised with the Longs, and two of her own, named Samuel and John. Finally after lapse of years came three more daughters, Elisabeth, Jenny, and Alice. Her baby was almost two years old. And soon all three of the oldest would be gone.
“I’ll still have Molly to help me,” she conceded, “and we can hire another servant if necessary. It will be a good experience for you to go with Rochelle. Do you want to go?”
“Oh, yes!” Rochelle has told me so much about her family and friends. She has a new beau, you know.” Ellen suddenly paused and bit her lip, as if considering that visiting Rochelle at this time might have its drawbacks. “Her family all speak in French in the home, she says, so it will be a good opportunity for me to practice.”
Johanna scrubbed the last bowl, handed it to Ellen, then lifted the basin of dirty water to dump out of doors. “I’ll speak to your father,” she agreed, “but I don’t believe he’ll have any objection.”
* * *
The candle cast a small nimbus of light in the darkness as Ellen began to prepare for bed in the chamber over the kitchen she had shared with her sisters as long as she could remember. The two beds almost filled the little room, with a row of chests along one wall to hold the girls’ clothes and belongings. In one bed Ellen’s three half-sisters lay fast asleep, baby Alice sprawled crosswise across the two older girls, brown and yellow hair tumbled together on the pillows. The other bed was still empty. Until last night, Ellen had shared it with Mary.
Shivering slightly in the winter air, her warm breath hovering mistily when she exhaled, she began to unfasten the hooks on her gown. The stomacher was her best stomacher, her favorite, which she had made herself: black silk embroidered with flowers in blue and gold, pink and purple, with green leaves. Next she slid out of the new rose-colored silk, brand new this winter. Johanna had helped her make it, taking time away from all the sewing for Mary’s new home. With the gown she wore a gray quilted petticoat, no longer new, with one stain along the hem, but set off nicely by the new gown so it did not seem so shabby. Her cap she had trimmed with several tiny rosebuds made from scraps of the new silk.
She laid her cap on the chest, began to unpin her hair and brush it out. Not yellow like Mary’s, or curly either. Mary had always been the pretty one in the family. When they were little girls, when their father brought business guests home to dinner, Ellen would hear, “Oh, what a pretty little girl!” and she always knew that Mary was the one they were talking about. When the sister grew into their teens, walking down the streets of the town, they often received looks from the boys, and Ellen knew that Mary was the one they were noticing.
She picked up the little silver hand mirror that had been a gift from her parents on her twenty-first birthday, and stared into its reflection. A heart-shaped face, wide across the forehead with a small pointed chin, a slight widow’s peak. Mary and Lydia both had curly hair; not for the first time Ellen wondered why she had missed out completely in that way. Her hair was long, dark, and straight as needles. Dark eyes too, rather too large, at least they appeared that way now. A nondescript nose and mouth. Ellen had been told she had a pretty smile, but no hint of it greeted her now. At least her skin was fine, pure white with no freckles, and her usual sedentary pursuits kept her from getting brown and sunburned. She never had to powder her face as many girls did.
Then her figure—thin and straight, almost boyish, with a small bust and no hips. She sighed. She never had to worry about gaining weight, but neither did she possess Mary’s feminine voluptuousness.
“What are you doing?”
The unexpected words in the silent bedchamber startled Ellen so that the mirror slipped from her hand. Seven-year-old Elisabeth was sitting up in bed, watching her.
“Nothing.” Flustered, Ellen bent to retrieve the mirror. The glass was cracked down the middle. Somehow it seemed a fitting ending to the day.
“Alice keeps kicking me,” Elisabeth complained, and yawned widely. “Can I sleep with you tonight? You’re all alone now that Mary is gone.”
“Aye,” Ellen murmured. “I’m all alone.” She laid the mirror down on its face and pulled down the covers of the bed. “Come on then, if you want.”
Elisabeth scrambled across to the empty bed and snuggled against her older sister. Ellen blew out the candle by the bed and room settled into darkness. As the minutes slipped by she felt Elisabeth sleeping soundly against her shoulder.