Lizzie Canon is born before her time. Deals with her love and her life in1800's
“Elizabeth! Come immediately! I have something wonderful to tell you.” It was Hannah’s voice shouting from down the hall.
“Yes, Hannah,” I responded mockingly. When Hannah was happy, she exaggerated the point of the thing that was so great. So I knew that what ever she was happy about was not such a big deal.
“We, the whole Canon family, are invited to a ball in a week from tomorrow. Oh, twill be wonderful, won’t it? And Mama is going to get us all new gowns to wear, silk gowns!”
“Are we going to have fittings today? Mrs. Spencer will make them, won’t she?” I asked excitedly.
“Yes, come now. Mrs. Spencer is here. In the upstairs parlor.”
In the parlor, the plump, brown-headed Mrs. Spencer was waiting to take measurements. Mrs. Spencer was our seamstress. She held an honest reputation in town and she designed the most beautiful gowns. I remember, once, when I was thirteen, Mama threw me a large coming-out party and Mrs. Spencer made me a gorgeous gown of watered pink silk with pearls sewn into the bodice. She had six bolts of silk: soft pink, light blue, soft green, a shimmery purple, gold, and burgundy red.
“Now, Elizabeth, dear,” Mama said, “ you must wear the pink silk, for it will match your blue eyes and soft complexion and dark hair. Come, let Mrs. Spencer take your fittings.” I moved forward, but as Mrs. Spencer wrapped her measuring tape around my waist, Mama sighed. “Oh dear, you will need to wear your stays tighter and you will have a fuller skirt,” Mama said decidedly.
“Yes, Mama. But why must I wear my stays tighter?” I asked. I was seething with anger.
“Because, your waist is too thick and for the ball you must be thin; you know, fashion over comfort when it comes to balls, and you will have three quarter length sleeves.” she answered. “all right, Mrs. Spencer? That goes for all my girls with the exception of Hope, of course.”
I inhaled deeply, lest my anger get the best of me and I start arguing with Mama right then and there. I thought it was positively ridiculous the way Mama and Father always thought my waist was too thick. It was twenty inches, for goodness’ sakes. They could have worried on more important things, like the fact that Hope was not eating again. I myself did not care whether or not my waist was small enough for Father to span with his hands.
“Yes, Mrs. Canon. Miss Canon, would you be so kind as to come so I may take your measurements for your dress?” Mrs. Spencer said. She jotted down some numbers and said, “Miss Canon, thank you. If I may take Miss Hannah Canon’s measurements now, then I can do yours, Mrs. Canon.”
“Hannah.” Mama nodded her head ever so slightly. Hannah chose the blue silk for it went with her eyes, the same pale blue. After, Hannah curtsied and left the room. Katherine came then Abigail. Next Patience and Hope.
“Mrs. Canon, your eldest daughter, Miss Annabelle Canon, may come now. Tis her turn. And I suppose she wishes to have the purple silk?”
The dresses everyone chose were Hope, pink; Annabelle, purple; Katherine, blue; Abby, gold; Patience, purple; Mary and Beth, green; and Mama gold. Father had a new suit of the best broadcloth made for himself by Mrs. Spencer.
The following week was filled with preparations for the ball; fittings, new hairstyles tried, gloves and slippers bought. The waning days of the ball were filled with an exciting feeling. I thought balls were very exciting because of the late nights, the dancing, the way Annabelle could be with William and not be the talk of Cherry Hill, and the festive feeling it brought. Perhaps also because it made Mama happy and she seldom became irritated with us for many days after.
“Mama, should we all take baths in our separate tubs?” Annabelle asked.
“Yes, Annabelle, you should. Missy will go to each of you to help with lacing your stays and doing your hair. And, dears, please help each other,” Mama said, nodding to Missy.
Missy curtsied and said, “Of course, madam. I shall be glad to help you.” She nodded. Missy came to us from Charlottesville, Prince Edward Island, Canada. She had fair hair and she wore a dress of pink calico. Her full name was Celestia Mathon Jenkins. But when we were little, we nick named her Missy. She was our housemaid who cleaned the house, and helped us with dressing.
“Yes, Mama.” We fled to our chambers to ready for the ball.
I put on my hoops and Missy pulled my stays tighter than ever. I felt like I was one of those new fangled English Dolls that showed off the latest styles from England, and how they were so perfect that it was not real. I did not like that feeling. With my stays pulled so tight, I felt like a caged animal, my body forced to be something it did not want to be. Then Nancy, our cook, having been dismissed from cooking so she might help, did my hair, curled and piled on my head with a few stray ringlets dangled about my head. She had quite a steady head with fixing hair, for her mother was all the aristocrats’ hair dressers in Marysville, Virginia, her hometown.
Nancy had black hair and a rosy complexion. She had a trim figure and her full name was Nancy Charlotte Dottington. And she was the best cook in all of Cherry Hill and in Fairfax County, it was said. She brushed a strand of my hair back and pronounced it perfect.
“Thank you, Nancy. Now, would you please help me put on my pink silk dress. Be a dear and fetch it from the press, won’t you? Thank you,” I said, and stepped into it. Nancy hooked the hooks together and tied a ribbon around my neck.
“Of course, Miss Elizabeth.” She hugged me and sent me off.
I gathered my skirts and walked down the stairs. Mama and Hope were standing together at the door and she said, “My, dearest, you look fine. You too, Annabelle.”
Mary and Beth came racing down the stairs. But they were not in their ball gowns and their hair was all messy and the bunch of the hair that was stuck together at the middle drooped. Mary and Beth were twins, and they looked very similar, but I could still tell them apart from each other. They were sixth in birthplace, Mary being born twenty minutes earlier than Beth. They were fifteen years old and they already had very pretty features. “Mary, Beth, why are you not wearing your ball gowns?” Mama said sharply.
“ Uhhhh.....Bec-” Mary stammered.
“Because we don’t want to go.” Beth, whom Mama had accidentally named Elizabeth too but was called Beth for short, looked at Mama in the eye.
“Well, we’ll just wait, I suppose, while you two go and change. And you will, now! Go on,” Mama said sharply.
“Y-yyeessss, Mama. I’m sorry. I’ll go now. It was Beth’s idea, anyhow,” Mary murmured. She retreated from the room and up the stairs. Beth stood with a soft, determined look on her face.
“Beth! Go now! Why are you standing there like the village idiot?” Mama demanded.
“Because I do not want to go, that’s why.”
“But you will go, now march, and if you don’t, I won’t let you skip sewing anymore.” Mama shook her head and pointed up the stairs.
I nudged Beth toward the stairs. She went, nodded, and ran up the stairs. Mama sighed and Hope stared after her, as if it wasn’t real. Why had Beth done that? I did not know. Mama frequently worried about Mary’s, especially Beth’s, boyish ways.
After an eternity, they came down the stairs, and they were beautiful. “Oh Beth, Mary, you’re so beautiful,” I whispered.
“Thanks,” she giggled, and Mary smiled and patted Beth on the back. Father came and said, “Come now, my girls, the ball is awaiting us.”
“Yes, Father. We’re coming.”
“Oh. And here we are! Come along girls.” Mama stepped out of the carriage and and helped everyone out. Father said, “You all look very nice.” When he said that, it was a big compliment. We smiled at him and he winked at me and Annabelle.
Candlelight glimmered in the Wiggins’ big windows. Mama, awed by this said, “As your father said, ‘Come now, my girls, the ball is awaiting us.’”
“Yes, dear, and Elizabeth, please walk and not run. You’re eighteen.” Annabelle strode after me, holding her skirts up with one hand.
“Look, Annabelle, there’s my friend Mary. And your friend Elizabeth Crawford. And William Myrtle,” I exclaimed and ran across the room. The floor was of polished wood and candlelight danced about the serene room. Elegant couples danced in their finest clothes and young children did quiet jigs in the corners. Large glass chandeliers gallantly displayed hundreds of candles overhead. It smelled of pine needles and roses, for Mrs. Wiggins was always displaying pretty bouquets of flowers. Tonight, she had set out––or rather her maidservants had set out––many bouquets of roses on the floor and on the buffet table.
“Lizzie, there’s your friend Abigail Ella Williamson, isn’t it?” Abby asked. She gestured to a pale girl of eighteen with fair straight hair wearing a pale blue silk gown.
“Why, yes it is.”
“Abigail Williamson! Why, it’s you! How are you?” I asked. I thought she was pretty and she wore a beautiful gown. It was of pale blue with a moderate neckline and pink white pearls were sewn into the lace. Why didn’t Beth and Mary go and see their friends Martha Crowns and Thankful Betireron who were standing in a corner, looking for them?
“Oh, fine, thanks.” She giggled softly and waved at Annabelle. “Annabelle, come. You must meet my beau James Fedeling!”
Annabelle went and I ran to Mary, gowned in a yellow satin, and greeted her. She turned and smiled at me.
“Well, my, you are fine! How are you?”
“Oh, good.” I waved a hand at a servant and she came and asked me if I would like some tea. I told her yes, I would. “And for my friend, if you please.”
She bobbed a curtsy and left.
We chatted and sipped tea in a corner. Then, Mama’s friend Charlotte Poluyete’s son, Edward, came toward us with Johnathan Betinhosen at his side. They were good friends, and I wondered at why they were coming. To ask to dance? To only chat? I didn’t know. But I did understand why Johnathan Betinhosen was coming, to ask Mary to a dance.
I knew that he was not daft over Eliza James, as Mary had said. He certainly liked Mary, if not more. They approached us, and Mary looked at me with a stricken look.
“May we have the pleasure of dancing with the fine young ladies, Miss Canon and Miss Palmer?” Johnathan asked with a shy smile. Edward nodded slightly at me.
I realized I was sweating so I took a deep breath and answered in my clearest, most polite voice, “Yes, we would be delighted. Aren’t we, Mary?”
She hesitated and backed away. I grabbed her arm and glared at her. How could she refuse? I knew she liked Johnathan, but why acting so odd? Perhaps because she was embarrassed. She was embarrassed most likely because she thought she knew that Johnathan liked Eliza James.
Her face turned red. She answered in a shaking, small voice. “Yes.”
Johnathan bowed and reached for her hand. Mary took it and looked at me, turning her head, with a gaze that would have scared the Devil himself. I did not think she knew what was going on.
Edward took my hand and led me to the dance floor. I smiled and started to waltz. He danced quite well even though he had a reputation for being a klutz. Annabelle was still chatting with Elizabeth Crawford and her other friends Emma Tibbets, Annetta Jones, and Margaret Gettysberg. Our old schoolmate Emilie Jebire, now married, was dancing with her husband Nathan Byfrews.
Edward smiled at me and smiled, glancing at Mary. She was dancing more comfortably now. But she was babbling more than usual. I could tell. By that nervous voice of hers and the way she always did that when she was nervous. I suppose she did it to keep herself from falling into silence gaps. As if they were deep enough to fall into and never come back out of. Mary hated silence. I turned my gaze back to Edward.
He smiled again and looked admiringly over me. I became a little nervous.
Edward was most amiable, but he lacked in something. He was handsome, yes, but he could never be the man I wanted to marry. I knew he was after my hand in marriage, but when I pictured us married, I almost laughed. He had still a ways to go in terms of growing up.
Now, Johnathan Betinhosen and Mary Palmer, was something I could see. Only a fool couldn’t see that they were not meant for each other. They understood each other, needed each other.
Emily Wiggins, daughter of Megan and Edmund, was the hostess. She chatted with everyone and cut a fine figure on the dance floor. Her sister, Ellena, was also acting as hostess, going around with Emily.
For the end of the evening, I talked with Mary and ate some desserts. We went home at midnight. I undressed and fell into bed, dreaming of the ball and what transversed between Mary and Johnathan.
Since the ball, Mary had been acting strangely. When I was at her house for supper, eight times since the ball which was two months ago, she barely ate anything. She seemed to not talk much, either. I wondered the why of it. She normally was very talkative and she had a sufficient appetite. Mrs. Alison Palmer kept a strict eye on her.
The September weather was beautiful. It was a clear day with the sun shining and no clouds overhead. Birds sang and lilies, Queen Anne’s lace, and tulips nodded their heads in the cool, crisp breeze.
One Thursday afternoon around tea time, I saw Mary coming up Brewster Street. I wondered why she was coming. I quickly went to the parlor and sat with Hannah and Annabelle. I took up sewing patchwork and not a minute later Missy came into the upper parlor and said, “Miss Elizabeth, you have a guest, Miss Mary Palmer.”
“Thank you, Missy. Mary come and sit. We must talk.”
“Miss Elizabeth, I suppose I should bring up tea and tell your mother that you’ll be missing tea in the dining room?”
“Yes, please do.” She curtsied and left Mary and I to our peace.
“Mary, why are so quiet? And you barely eat a thing. Why?” I said.
“I’ve been thinking.”
“Well... Johnathan Betinhosen.”
“Oh, I’ve kind of been thinking that, well, I think I like him more than I thought. And he likes me more than he let on. And maybe he isn’t daft over Eliza James,” Mary said hesitantly. She picked at the fold of her skirt.
“Thank you, Mary. Finally you’ve realized. Mayhap you will become betrothed. Do you think your parents will agree?”
“I wouldn’t take it so far yet. But, I think yes. Mama highly esteems his family and so does Father. I think, mayhap, we will be betrothed by spring.”
“And when will you marry?”
“Oh, we haven’t gotten that far yet. But maybe by the fall.”
“Tis wonderful.” I was bubbling over with joy. But I kept calm.
I sipped tea and nibbled on a biscuit. Mary did the same.
“Yes.” Mary sighed and a dreamy look came into her eyes. Her straight fair hair lay in a heap on her head. Her starry eyes were beautiful. And she wore a plain dress that somehow added to her careless, yet elegant look. No wonder Jonathan was so taken with her. I could see that plainly, now.
We finished tea and she left for home, in a much better state than I had seen her in many weeks. I sighed and continued my patchwork, my needle dipping down into the fabric, making a straight line of stitches that were the same, yet each was different. I marveled at the idea that Mary loved Johnathan. I did another stitch and sighed again. I was in for trouble about something because I heard Mama calling my name. I scrambled to her room, dropping my patchwork with the straight line of white stitches to the ground.
“Oh, yes, of course, Mama. I’ll go right now to Betsy Tyland’s and invite them for supper on Thursday, November fifth at six o’clock. Right?” I said.
Abby came and asked, “What?”
“Oh, Mrs. Tyland and her family; you know, Lizzy, Cora, and John?”
“Oh yes. We haven’t visited with them for a while.” Abby nodded.
Mama said, “Yes, dear. Run along now.”
I put on my cloak and walked outside. I thought about what I should say. Yes, Mrs. Tyland was nice, but she talked too much. And her children did. Suddenly I heard my name being called. “Elizabeth! Elizabeth!”
I turned around and saw Abigail coming with Hope, holding a sheet of paper, and she was waving it. “What? What is it?”
“Oh, Lizzie, you’ve gotten a letter! From Edward Poluyete. Read it! Mama said to come give it to you right away.” Abby handed me the letter. I took it and broke off the seal. I opened it and read the letter. It said:
Dear Miss Elizabeth Palmer,
I had a lovely time dancing with you at Mrs. Wiggins’ ball. How are you faring? I hope well.
I would like to request the presence of your company for tea on Friday, November 15th at three o’clock.
Edward Martin Poluyete
“Well, this will be disposed of immediately! I will burn it as soon as I return home, Abby. I hate Edward Poluyete. This is a fine mess, isn’t it? He likes me and I hate, hate , mind you, him. Hope go and tell Mama that I refuse to do anything with him. And that I will not be courted by Edward Poluyete. Tell her this. And make it clear, if you please.”
“Okay, Elizabeth? Why don’t you like Edward? He’s nice. I don’t understand.” Hope tossed me a confused glance.
“You will when you’re older. I just don’t like him in that way, you see. He wants to marry me. I would be happy to be friends with him. But Mama, him, and Father are pushing for us to marry. Therefore, I may not even talk to him without being thrown at him by Mama and Father.” I sent her along and Abby came with me to Mrs. Tyland’s house.
I rapt at the door and a maid answered. “Right this way, Miss Canon.”
“Thank you. Abby, come along. And be polite.”
“Yes, Elizabeth.” Abby quietly followed me.
“Madam, Miss Canon is here to see you.” The maid curtsied and left the parlor. The room was furnished with damask curtains and red chairs. I greeted her and Abby murmured a hello.
“What can I do for you, Miss Elizabeth?” Mrs. Tyland asked.
“Nothing. Only, we wish to invite you to tea on Thursday, November 15th at six o’clock for supper. Mama said she would like that very much. Would you like to come?” I said politely.
“Why, yes, of course. I should like that very much,” she responded.
“And also your family is invited.”
“Yes, yes of course. Thank you. ‘Tis a kind offer.”
“Very well. Good day, Mrs. Tyland. Come now, Abby.”
The fortnight before the supper with Mrs. Tyland passed quickly. And pleasantly. Mary and I went to see the new notions at Calier’s Shoppe in the center of town. We purchased some new gloves and had a roll in Verison’s Bakery.
Finally the day came when the Tylands were coming. Nancy was baking all day and Missy was cleaning the house until perfection. All of us children were doing something or other, dusting, tidying the parlor and such. Mama directed everyone. Father went to town to buy some Madeira for the guests.
We all change to nicer clothes and soon enough they arrived.
Father said, “Welcome. How are you, Fred? And you, Betsy?”
“Well, thank you.” Mr. Tyland nodded and Mrs. Tyland said, “Very well.”
We had a lovely supper of fried chicken and warm bread and pies and quite good cake and fried pineapple. They left and I read for an hour, then fell asleep on the chair.
Mama did not like that I refused Edward’s invitation. She gave me a lecture. I listened and sighed and told her yes, you were right. But she forgot it soon after the lecture because her sister, Aunt Margaret, came for a visit with her husband, David Kieter, and their children, my cousins, Kara, Maggie, John, Henry, and Bessie.
They arrived in their carriage, coming from Boston. They lived in a grand house called Sheddington on Main Street in Boston. They had ten maids and two butlers. My aunt and uncle were very kind. She was my mother’s favorite sister, even though she had four more siblings, Mary, John, William, and Betsy. And her mother and father, Grandma and Grandpa Thompson.
“Oh Kara, I’m so glad you came!” Annabelle gushed. I smiled.
“Maggie, how is your betrothed, Samuel Gardner?” I whispered into her ear.
“Oh, stop! He is not my betrothed. And he’s fine.” Maggie giggled.
“John, do you have any girls on your arm these days?” I said, laughing at him.
“No! I do not.” He played with his collar.
“Oh, posh, John, you know you do. Hannah Reddings, Elizabeth.” Kara said. Henry turned red.
“Wonderful, and you Henry? Any girls?” I accused him.
“Well, yes, I mind as well admit it, because Maggie, Kara, or Bessie will tell you, anyhow. Her name is Jane Sands and she is a very nice young lady.” Henry admitted, blushing a little.
Maggie moved a piece of patchwork from her lap and gave it to Abby. “Hope, where have you been?”
“I was reading in my room.”
Hannah came up to me and said, “Oh, look, Lizzie, there’s my new gloves I just got!”
“Great. I’ll see them later.” I said.
Patience came in and said, “Oh! Hello! Bessie, Kara, Maggie. And John and Henry.”
“Yes, how do you do?” John said.
“Very well, thank you.”
“How are you?” exclaimed Maggie.
Missy came in, curtsied and said, after a deep breath, “Miss Elizabeth, Miss Maggie, Miss Katherine, Miss Kara, Miss Bessie, Miss Patience, and Miss Annabelle, you mothers wish to see you in the upstairs parlor right away.” She curtsied again and left the room.
“Come along, girls. Aunt Maggie and Mama wish to see us.” I strode out of the room, and they followed me.
I walked into the room and sat on the settee. Annabelle and Kara did the same. Maggie, Bessie, Katherine, and Patience sat on other chairs.
“Yes, Mama?” Katherine asked.
“What is it, Mother?” Maggie inquired.
“You girls, we have some wonderful news. We are invited to Henry Colestone’s house tomorrow evening for a ball. The whole town is invited, practically,” Mama said, clasping her hands.
“Oh, Aunt Ella, it is wonderful! Am I to come as well?” Bessie exclaimed.
“Of course, Bessie, do you think we would tell you if we weren’t going to let you go? After all, you’re sixteen!” Aunt Margaret said, rather excitedly.
“Aunt Margaret, are we to go in rags or are we getting new gowns?” Patience said.
“Oh, tis such an event! Of course we’ll all get new attire for this event.” Mama waved her hand as if dismissing the subject. “Tea. Missy! You may bring tea now.”
“Yes, Madam.” Missy’s voice came clear from down the hall.
We sipped tea yet again. Mama made us. Father and Uncle David walked in and said, “What is so exciting? If you please, we would like to know.”
“Oh, only we’re going to a ball tomorrow,” I said airily.
“Oh, and at who’s house?”
“At Henry Coleman’s mansion,” I replied.
“Are we to accompany all of you?”
“Don’t be silly, William.” Mama laughed at him.
She glided out of the room gracefully. Mama was always graceful. Except when she was mad. Oh, when she was mad, you had to stay clear of her, all right.
We went to bed early, to rest, for we most likely would be up all hours of the night tomorrow. I rose early and went to the kitchen. Nancy was yet again making a lavished breakfast. I helped her.
“Dear, you needn’t do that,” Nancy said of my helping her.
“Oh, but I want to, Nancy.” I stirred the porridge and cleaned the fish off.
Soon after, I left and had breakfast in the dining room with everyone else. “Margaret, what time should we leave for the ball?” Mama asked.
“At six thirty.” Aunt Margaret ate a bite of fried fish.
“Katherine will go and fetch Mrs. Spencer right after breakfast.” Mama said.
“Yes, Mama.” Katherine smiled.
Soon enough, breakfast ended. And, about twenty minutes later, Katherine came with Mrs. Spencer.
She met with each of us and Aunt Margaret and Mama. She would make us dresses of brocade and velvet with lace. My dress was made of pink brocade and white lace. Maggie had the same. Annabelle and Kara had the same dresses that had scooping necklines and they puffed out very far, and they were made of purple velvet and creamy white lace. Abby, Katherine and Bessie had the same dresses with a moderately scooping neckline, for it wouldn’t be seemly for young teenagers to have such low necklines.
Around four, we began to ready for the ball. Missy helped each of us. Nancy did our hair in the latest fashions, piled carelessly on our heap in curly heaps. I put on my dress and went down the stairs. “Thank you Missy.”
“Nancy, thank you so much for your help. I love it.” Kara said of the hairstyle.
“Oh, look. Father’s brought the carriage from out back.”
“Wonderful,” Mama said, picking up her skirts and going out the door. We followed.
We had to go in two carriages because there were eleven of us. My boy cousins were coming later. That would make us thirteen people.
We walked up to the door, and Father rapt on it. A maid named answered it.
She curtsied and said, “Right this way, Miss Canon, and Miss Kieter.”
“Yes, thank you, Memmy,” I said. She showed all of us to the ballroom, Mrs. Colestone’s big middle room.
She greeted us with a smile and went off to other guests with Mama and Aunt Margaret.
Samantha Pington came up to me smiling, “Oh, Elizabeth, how are you? Oh, I’ve missed you so.”
“I’m fine, Samantha. And you? It’s great to see you,” I replied.
“Yes, it is. How are your sisters?”
“Good. I’m sorry, Samantha, but would you excuse me? My mother is calling for me.” I apologized.
“Elizabeth, come along. Pardon us, Samantha,” Maggie said.
“Of course. I’ll see you soon, hopefully,” said Samantha.
“Elizabeth, you will never believe me. But Robert Brisen asked me to dance and I accepted. And here he comes. I have to go.” Maggie glided to Robert and started to dance with him. Bessie was waltzing with David Neliden, Kara with Brian Reltire, John with Katherine, Annabelle with William, Abby with Henry, and me with no one. I went to look for Mama and Aunt Margaret, but they were dancing too.
Suddenly, I saw Edward coming towards me. He bowed, and said, “May I have this dance, Miss Elizabeth?”
I thought for a moment. I replied, softly, “Yes, you may, Edward.” He took me around the room and said, “Elizabeth, would you come to my house, tomorrow, at noon?”
“Yes, I will. What for?”
“You shall see tomorrow.” He smiled saucily. I squeezed down a small urge to slap him.
The next day I arrived at their house on Kiggen Avenue. A butler answered it, and took me to a parlor where Edward was waiting. He looked fairly nervous and he was dressed in his finest, I could tell. “Hello, Miss Elizabeth.”
“What, Edward? What is the reason you called me here?” I responded sharply.
“I had some business I had to settle with you.”
He kneeled and showed me a diamond ring. He looked at me hopefully. “Will you marry me, Elizabeth?”
I looked at him, then I stood up, and said, “Absolutely not. I wish you wouldn’t do this. I wish we could just be friends. I don’t like you in that way.”
“Oh, Elizabeth, I love you.”
“I told you I don’t. If you call on me again or even speak to me again, I will hurt you even more severely than I will now.” Then I slapped him. It was very satisfying to slap him. I turned on my heel and left.
Edward did not call on me ever again. Mama was happy with my decision. She had finally realized we were not a good match. But she did not like that I slapped him. “Elizabeth, you know much better than to hit people.”
In December, Mama planned her yearly Christmas Ball. It was going to be wonderful. That was my favorite season, because I love Christmas and my birthday is on the fifteenth of December. Mrs. Spencer made us new Christmas gowns. Aunt Margaret and Uncle David came, with all of my cousins. All of Mama’s siblings came with their children and Grandma and Grandpa Canon came. Father’s sisters came: Anne, Lily, and Jane, with my uncles: Ben, Peter, and Martin. They brought their children with them so It was crowded in the house, with thirty-six people in it.
My cousins and I got ready for the party, helping each other and scurrying around. We went down stairs for the ball, all dressed up. I was dressed in a pink brocade gown. My hair was piled on my head, curled in the latest fashion. My cousins and sisters and I had matching gowns and hair styles. I went downstairs with Maggie, Annabelle, and Martha, Aunt Anne’s daughter.
All the guests Mama had invited were there: the Wiggins, the Tylands, the Poluyetes, the Colestones, and Mama’s new friends, the Delvaries. Mrs. Jane Delvarie was very kind, and Mr. Jonas was very nice as well. Mrs. Jane was Mrs. Poluyete’s sister. Their two children, Tommy and Trixie, were fifteen.
Supper was served. Nancy outdid herself will rich delicacies and fancy deserts. Finally the ball ended and we went to bed. The rest of the winter passed well. Christmas day we exchanged gifts. In January, Hope broke her leg. Late in March, Hope was able to walk properly again.
That June a terrible sickness passed through town. Hope was the first in our house down with it. She probably got it from one of the girls at Miss Dame’s School For Young Ladies. I came down with it, but luckily I quickly recovered. Abby and Annabelle came down with it. Annabelle got better, and Katherine, and Mama, but Hope and Abby got sicker and sicker.
Doctor Weldin came by everyday. It was all we could do to force the medicine down their throats. Abby had a severe case of Scarlet Fever. Hope had a case of some sort of other fever. I didn’t know. Somehow, Nancy forced weak broth into them. In July, after a month of the turmoil in our house, Hope worsened. The third week of July, she closed her eyes and stopped breathing. She died. Mrs. Poluyete and Mrs. Delvarie put it in dainty phrases like “gone to rest” and “finally at peace.” I moped around. Katherine and Annabelle cried, day after day. Mary and Beth stopped fighting and were quiet, sleeping and eating obediently. Mama was crazed with grief. I didn’t eat. Father was more solemn than ever. Patience was teary-eyed and Missy and Annabelle worked and tried to keep us one piece.
The funeral was held at White Oak Cemetery. Reverend Fryton said words about dust and ashes and how Hope was such a meek, good little girl. A tear fell. It dawned on me that Hope had only been alive nine years.
Blinded by our grief, we didn’t notice Abby, growing weaker and weaker every day. She was pale and patient. She was thinner than Hope was when she used to wear stays. In early September, she died. Mama went out of her mind. She threw things, refused to eat, and screamed, then broke down crying. It almost killed her to have a second funeral.
By mid October, our family was falling apart. I had to do something. So I tried smiling and bringing up happy subjects: Christmas, balls, the new style of gowns in England, anything. It worked somewhat. It created a diversion; something to talk about so they wouldn’t go insane. Father applauded me.
I realized Mama was the worst of us. I went to see her. She was in her room, her cheeks sunken, her face lifeless. She was staring at the ceiling. “Mama?” I said uncertainly.
“What, Elizabeth? What is it?” She turned to me.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m as all right as I would be in Hell.”
“No, Mama, really. You don’t eat, you barely talk to anyone. We’re worried.”
“Elizabeth, I have lost two daughters within two months. I am out of my mind.”
“Mama, sometimes you have to stop being so selfish. I have lost two sisters, if you haven’t realized it!” I snapped at her.
“Well, we are all sad too. But you can’t go moping around. Yes, you should grieve, it’s only proper. But you have to let it go after five months and get on with your life!” I nearly shouted. “But keep them in your heart, always,” I added.
“Oh, I’m sorry Elizabeth, you’re right. I have been selfish. Now, let’s get something to eat; I’m starved.”
She was back to normal! Mama even threw her Christmas Ball. It was a big success. And it buoyed everyone’s spirits, especially Mama’s. And Annabelle was was happy. William asked for her hand that night. Father agreed. Annabelle said yes. They had already set a date for the wedding. May first, the 1793 year of our lord Ano Domini. The rest of the winter went by relatively well. In fact, Mama was the only one to keep us sane. She was so happy, it amazed me. But we were also busy with preparations for the wedding. March passed. In April, Mama called Mrs. Spencer who made us new gowns. Annabelle had a gown made of watered silk with pearls sewn into it. She was beautiful in it.
Around the middle of the month, a new family moved into town. The Williams. They were an upstanding family with a good reputation. They bought the mansion on Fifth Street. The had four children: John, twenty, Laura, eighteen, Scarlette, fifteen, and Lula, thirteen. They were beautiful fair girls and John was handsome. He had blue eyes and blonde hair. Mama invited them to the wedding, of course.
She invited everyone: the Tylands, Poluyetes, Delvaries, Colestones, Wiggins, and a socially prominent family, the Jensons. A week before the wedding, all our family came. Somehow, we managed to fit them all into the house.
Grandma Thompson gave me a gift, a heart locket with my initials in it.
It was beautiful outside on the day of the wedding. Nancy and Missy had been baking since last week. Father had said to Mama, much to my disgust, “ Do not be comfortable for this wedding, Ella. You know what I mean.”
I knew what that meant. He wanted me to wear my stays tighter.
So, yet again, Nancy pulled my stays tight, but I did not complain. Missy was helping Annabelle dress. Then she would attend to Mama. We scurried and got dressed. My dress was of pink silk. My hair was at least a foot high on my head. My hair had been curled the previous night. To give myself some credit, I looked pretty good.
Everyone was there. Reverend Fryton married Annabelle and William. After they said their I do’s, my sister was now Mrs. Annabelle Snow Canon Myrtle. She looked radiant in her white watered silk. Mama was crying, but this time out of hapiness.There was to be a party afterwards, held at our house. We went back to the house in carriages. Mama was hostess and carried out her duty gracefully. Father gave Annabelle a generous dowry. Father hired musicians.
There was dancing. All my cousins danced. I spotted Mary dancing with Jeffrey Weldin and Beth was dancing with Jonas Weldin. I giggled, for they were twins also. I did a quiet jig with myself in the corner. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw John Williams come towards me. He bowed slightly. He said, “May I have this dance, Miss Canon?”
“Yes, thank you. I would like to.”
He took me around the room. We glided gracefully. I felt Mama eyeing me. I blushed.
I danced only with John for the rest of the night.
“So, John, do you find Cherry Hill to your liking?” I asked.
“Yes, very much so. It is a charming little town.” He nodded.
Then Annabelle was watching me. Towards the end of the night, she said to me, “So your next, aren’t you?”
I pleaded a headache and went to bed. It had been a very elegant wedding.
****Concludes Part 1 to Before Her Time****