Saturday, 5 April 2008

In our local museum there is a dress that always makes my grandma sigh. She tells me that long ago when she was young and looking to be wed along with all the other girls in her village, there was one young woman called Lily who was insistent that she would never get married - ever.

Of course all the boys naturally wanted her for their sweetheart. Everyone wants what they can't have, more than what they can have as my granny used to say. But she was unyielding. She wanted to go to university and study. She wanted to be an architect; a fashion designer, an aviator (it was quite a long time ago), a doctor. She certainly did not want to get married and stay stuck at home.

Now it was traditional in the village for all the young women to help with a wedding. They would make the trousseau, even the wedding dress and the bridesmaid's dresses - and the groom's suit. Lily didn't mind helping in this way and as she was good at making clothes she very often did the wedding dress.

One by one, the young women were married and Lily worked hard to learn all she could so that she could go to university. She used to say, according to my grandma, that she was married to Learning. She was often teased quite unmercifully that she would end up a spinster with big glasses, lots of books and not much else. However, she ignored all that for she was determined. Then, as they say - something happened to change all that.

One summer a young and beautiful man rode into the village. His horse was glossy and dark, he was dark haired and had green eyes and a wild smile. Tho' he was handsome, six young women almost forgot their husbands and had to be taken home for a large brandy and the smelling salts, he had something of the forest about him. He was tall and slim, yet broad-shouldered and he was looking for a wife it appears. When he saw Lily that was it. He wanted no other woman to wed. But Lily was firm. She was going to university to study and she was not going to be a wife.

"Why not do both?" the young man asked her, "Go to university and study. When you're qualified, come back and we'll be married. It will be a splendid wedding, I have a large and handsome family," he added, smiling with his teeth.

Lily had not considered this and agreed that she would certainly think about it. The man agreed to this, kissed her and went away. Somehow, Lily could not quite get that kiss out of her mind. It was as if she was being tasted and it made her skin crawl.

That year, however she went off to university. She learned all kinds of things there for she might be studying one thing, but she was quite aware that all the disciplines were linked. She wrote essays for learned journals and passed her exams and made a lot of friends for she was lively and witty as well as beautiful. Three years after, she came home. There was the young man waiting for her on his glossy dark horse and looking handsome as you like. Lily told him that first she'd need a wedding gown and he smiled toothily and told her there was one waiting for her and that she should be married in the village and then come away to his house in the forest.

Now study had made Lily a lot smarter, but she had also learned in other ways and she was a lot wiser as well. She said she would think about it and off she went to her parents house to tell them about what she had learned and all. Her parents understood very little of what she was on about but they were glad to see her and how beautiful she looked - so grown up and so clever. When she realised this she laughed at herself and embraced them telling them that one day she would be a very well known professor at the university and have a lovely house.

"But what about the young man?" they asked.

"Hmph!" she said, "He's a little too fond of trying to direct me and I shan't be directed by him."

With that, she went off to see her grandma. Now her grandma had never been to university, but she was a clever old woman at that. She had noticed that the young man had no silver on his clothes. Not even a silver ring. She gave Lily a silver ring and a silver set of bullets with a small gun.

Then she told her grand-daughter, "When you need to come home, you just whistle the Farmer's Lament. That fine horse your mother kept for you has become one of the fastest horses around and he'll come and fetch you home. You needn't tell your young man. Some things are best kept quiet where husbands are concerned."

Lily thanked her grandma, kissed her and went home. The next morning, the young man was there all dark hair and fine clothes and green eyes - and no silver on his clothes. Lily showed him the lovely silver ring her grandma had given her and watched as he recoiled, arching his thick eyebrows.

"I shall get you a gold one much better than that. Leave that one here and come away." he said, frowning.

He had brought the most beautiful wedding gown with a little pouch purse to match it. The gown was all pleated and soft creamy silk chiffon in layers. It looked more like a meringue cake than a dress. Then little by little the wedding feast was prepared and the young man's family arrived. Lily's friends dressed her in the wonderful dress and she secretly loaded the gun and put it in her wedding purse.

So she was married and the young man's family seemed to vanish soon after. The feasting continued and the young man took Lily upon his horse and kissed her with some satisfaction. Then he spurred his horse onwards with his wooden spurs and the horse darted forward. On they rode with the shadows growing around them and the young man's arm tight about her waist. For some time they rode until they came to a fabulous chateau in the woods. It seemed to Lily to be a very old building and indeed it seemed a little ruined in some areas, but she did not mind that. She began to whistle the Farmer's Lament loudly and the notes seemed to rise very lonely in the darkness and night air. The young man lit a candle to take her to bed and she noticed by the flickering light that he seemed to have become bearded; and that his nose seemed to have grown longer and his ears also. His hands also looked something rather like paws.

She told him that she must first prepare herself for him and he agreed panting somewhat. She stepped into the large bed chamber and saw there was no bed. Only the gore and blood of a young woman, her dress torn to shreds. Lily kept a cool head. She walked about the chamber whistling the Farmer's Lament loudly and tucked the skirts of the dress into her knickers so her legs should be free. Then she drew the gun from her purse opened the window and leapt into the branches of a tree. From there she climbed down quietly noticing the darker shadows moving silently through the trees towards the house. When she could, she sprang to the ground and ran. But her husband now hungry for her, burst into the room and finding her missing, howled.

Her horse was coming even as her husband and his family were sniffing her out. She mounted her horse and away they rode for home. She had passed through the fields when she turned in the saddle and saw her husband behind her. His huge paws pushed the road under him, his teeth gleamed in the moonlight; she took her gun and fired at him. He yelped and fell and did not follow. His family cruelly turned on him then and ate him all up.

The day after, she packed up all her wedding things, handed the gun back to grandma and went back to the university to study some more. She decided once and for all, not to get married again.


simona said...

great story Griffin!Wise grandma! La belle at la bete ( beauty and the beast) just the other way round,

No more war, no more beasts, more beauty!!!

madameshawshank said...

every thread of the dress carries memory ~ they too remember the sounds of hooves ~ gunshot ~ prettiness remembers and the pouch is happy empty methinks..ready for whatever magic is rocking through the museum methinks...

Griffin ~ can you hear that exquisite fabic applauding the tale? I can:-)

Griffin said...

I wrote it... went off for breakfast and then returned to edit it.

I have always loved folktales and this one helped me to combine the tale of Bluebeard and the idea of the werewolf in one.

I rather liked the thought too that Lily (I had the model Lily Cole in mind) did not have to marry in order to live happily ever after. She's in control of her own life, but not pompous about it. A lot like the amazing women I know.

Yes, wise grandma - they usually are in folktales!

Rosemary in Utah said...

This dress, this thing of folds
It covers flesh
This dress, this thing of fashion
It hides blood
This dress, this pleated frock
It summons hunger

Hark hark the dogs do bark!
A werewolf wedding after dark!
What care we for wedding nights?
Where can we sink our pearly whites?

Griffin said...

Hurrah! Another response to the picture! Keep 'em coming - this is a wonderful poem too - highly evocative.

Barbara said...

Your best yet I think. Beautiful photo Madame. Great story Grif'

joan said...

Barbara, I'd love to know what came into your lovely head the moment you saw the photo! The words that came from the part of you that was drawn to the snap. I can remember taking it sooooooooooooooooo clearly..the Strasbourg. Won't say anymore 'cause methinks the images want to remain clear, without any more meness to them...they are now on their journey avec Mr G.

hello to any who drop by...more more more than welcome...the glasses are in the wondrous cupboard in front of you...'n as for the liquids..ah, the wonders of name it, it's there...

madameshawshank said...

now don't laugh...I'm all at all the seas really...all this signing in..'n red words of incorrectedness pop up when I post..and I fiddle with gmail and ahhhhhhhhh then joan appears..and I almost don't know thanking ma lucky stars Griffin was able to set the whole thing up:-)..I'd still be with paper and scissors what name I'll have this time...exhausting this name business...:-)

simona said...

Madame, Griffin, maybe after you write the story, would you pehaps post the origin of the photo? where and on what occasion it was taken? Of course, if you thinkk it won't hurt the spirit of the blog. Just a suggestion..
Love reading you , Griffin, I'll try to spread the word (!!) of your blog ..

No more war, more stories

madameshawshank said...

A First Communion dress in the Musee Alsacien in Strasbourg.

jennyflower said...

For another innocent virgin to be ravished by the un-natural claws of religion???

madameshawshank said...

jennyflower, I can remember the feeling I had when I walked into the room..there they were..side by side...two dresses for teenage girls...teenage girls of Strasbourg perhaps..of the time of years white for the Catholic gal, the other black for the Protestant gal..I imagined the two...the lockedinity of those dresses..I thought of the Catholic gal who might have had more a black dress sensibility..the Protestant lass might have simply ached to wear a bit of froth..for me it was a symbol of rigidity..and at the same time an example of exquisite work...divine dresses linked to mustbelief:-) welcome on board jennyflower!

framboise_et_rose said...

I love that dress, Madame. Why didn't I tell my daughter to take me to that museum that day instead of sitting in a cafe just visiting - I wouldn't know. Visiting children takes on a different schedule than one wants.

Funny, you'd say that one dress for the catholic gal and the other for the protestant gal. I went to mass at what I thought was a Catholic Church and when I read the bulletin board, it is both a Catholic and a Protestant Church. They share the same space and Ithought how interesting! Strasbourg is a beautiful city!

Griffin, as usual, a great tale! You and Madame are a great combo!

framboise (aka Lilia)

Barbara said...

Madame only just got back here. Too answer your question my thoughts were "Oh I'd love to look fabulous in that dress" I was drawn to the little purse for some reason.

Now I shall go read the history of the photo.

Griffin said...


I have to be honest I didn't think of it like that, tho' as an atheist I might be expected to! I liked the folds and the light/shade of the image and like Barbara, I rather liked that little purse too.

And now I'm wondering what you and your amazing embellisher would make of such a dress... flowers might sprout upon the hem and grow upwards over the skirt... like the Primavera in Botticelli's painting of the birth of Spring...

I suspect you'd make something quite special of such a 'canvas'.

Marilee said...

It is a lovely dress, and she was a wise and learned girl. I must admit to having met quite a few "wolves" in my own life. Some were men that I got rid of, some were challenges that I still carry. Both made me stronger. Good write, Girish dear.