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  • Writer's pictureLinda Odhner, with photos by Liz Kufs

Excerpted Inspirations #133


[Miriam Willard makes a living as a dressmaker, having learned the trade on her own in captivity in Montreal. Hortense is a servant girl who befriended Miriam in the noble house to which Miriam was first taken, and Hortense generously harbored Miriam and her sister Susanna in her family home when the two were turned out onto the street. Now the Governor’s wife has hired Miriam to sew dresses for her, and given her a length of sprigged muslin to make a dress for herself.] For the rest of the day, while her fingers worked on one dress, Miriam’s mind was fashioning another. The joy of having a new piece of goods, all of her own, to plan and cut just as she chose! At last, hugging the material close to her, she hastened home along the street at such a pace that she almost bumped into Hortense before she recognized her. “I’m so thankful,” beamed Hortense, when she had learned of the new work. “I have tried at the tailor shop twice, and I was worried about you. [...] But I was coming to remind you of the wedding. You promised, you know. It is only three days away.” “Please, Miriam,” she begged, as Miriam hesitated. “I want my friends to be there. You see, we must have a specially happy wedding. Jules has been called into the regiment. Any day now he will have to march out with them, and who knows how long he will be gone?” Miriam promised. She would work every spare minute of daylight and have the new dress to wear. And when Pierre came again, how astonished he would be!  The material spread across her bed like a field of flowers, Miriam set to work. But the rapture she had anticipated suddenly deserted her. Instead a nagging memory tormented her. Such a small thing. If she had not run into Hortense she would never in the world have thought of it again. But now, wherever she looked, there was Hortense, touching a yellow satin gown with a timid finger, and in her ears was a wistful voice, “I wish that just once in my life, for my wedding, I could have a beautiful dress to wear.” Oh, why did I have to think of it! She struggled inwardly with herself. Why did I have to meet her today, before I had it cut out and started? The girl of last winter would not have hesitated. But in these last months the old defenses had worn thin. They were not proof against the memories that plagued her. She could see a pair of merry black eyes twinkling over a red blanket held up to shield her. She could see an anxious figure hurrying along the snowy street to find two banished women and take them home. Always Hortense had given. Now, unexpectedly, here in her hands was something to give, a perfect wedding present. “She is just about my height, but much stockier,” she told herself, firmly stamping down her own anguished protests. “I had better do it fast, before I change my mind.” Every persistent doubt was silenced three days later when she stood in the parish church and watched Hortense take her marriage vows. The memory of Hortense’s astonishment and joy was like a precious jewel concealed in her hand. Holding such wealth, it did not matter how she looked to the others. Even more, in a way she had not foreseen, the gift had brought her inside the circle. Never, when she had lived in their house, had she felt one with the family as she did today. A warm current of affection linked her with her friend’s mother, radiant with pride in her eldest daughter, with the little girls, whose adoration shone in their scrubbed faces, even with Jules, whose eyes dwelt on his bride with unconcealed worship. Hortense’s round face was touched with beauty as she spoke the solemn words. It was the first wedding Miriam had ever attended. She had come into this alien church reluctantly, almost fearfully. But with the happy new warmth melting her strangeness, she was moved beyond any expectation by the chanting voices. Though she could not understand it, the ritual of the mass held her enthralled. Never again would she shudder with distrust as she passed the churches of Montreal, knowing now that they contained only this reverence and beauty. Elizabeth George Speare, Calico Captive (1957), pp. 236-239

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