Thursday, 17 April 2008
Jenny of Flowers Blue
I knew an embroiderer once. She was a charming and lovely woman with a hint of mischief about her eyes. I used to sit quietly on the sofa beside her and watch her, occasionally shutting my eyes and purring to let her know that I was happy there. It was a few centuries ago when I was a cat. Best reincarnation I ever had. I was a long-haired tabby and the embroiderer loved me.
It happened that one evening she came home a little sombre - or so I thought. She made herself coffee and sat with me on her lap, gently stroking my head and shoulders while I flexed my paws and purred with the sheer pleasure. After a while, she leaned over and picked up her work basket. She took several reels of blue cotton and a large piece of white cotton fabric and she began to sew.
Now I don't know about you, but when somebody's talking while I'm working, my work starts to take on some of the things they are saying within it. My embroiderer was sewing a charming floral border about the edge of the cloth when a friend of hers, a dressmaker was shown in. She had news. She usually did have news and it was much better than taking a news paper for her news was more about those we knew than those we did not.
"My dear, I had to come and see you. It seems there's to be a ball at the house of Sir Cladstone Bellaire and all the fine folk will be going. I have been asked, separately of course, to make several dresses. But here's the news - that pretty young miss who is married to Sir Kirby Muxloe, the one who grew up with the Misses Austen, well she is going to be there, but has made a bet. She has bet Sir Kirby that she will only wear white and blue and that she will be a triumph," the dressmaker said.
She sat back in her chair as if to say, well what do you think of that then?
We were amazed and my embroiderer said so for the two of us. My needlewoman considered for a moment and then asked if the dressmaker had seen the new Chinese porcelain vases at the manor house. That was in blue and white, she said. It was in the most beautiful porcelain and had two dragons about it.
"I declare," said my embroiderer pausing in her sewing, "They appear quite frightening. If that sort of animal is in China I should be terrified to live there. The maid fainted when she saw them. They are entwined about the vases with their claws showing and snarling at all who look upon them." she told the dressmaker.
The dressmaker humphed and said that she knew that maid who was a silly girl who would faint at the sight of a feather falling from the sky. She continued with her own news, which was more interesting. It seems that Lady Muxloe had also seen the blue and white porcelain and thought its simplicity quite remarkable. That was why she intended to arrive at the ball in blue and white simplicity herself.
Lady Jenny Muxloe was a lively young woman with dark hair, pale, clear complexion and bright animated eyes. Nothing about her was ever still for more than two minutes, Mrs Ketch had said. I know because I was on top of the wall hunting a butterfly at the time while Mrs Ketch - a formidable grandmother was talking to a group of ladies. Being a cat I would have forgotten about such a thing except that I saw Lady Muxloe herself later on - indeed she stopped to make a fuss of me. Mrs Ketch was right, Lady Muxloe was very handsome and very animated. Even I was a little tired after meeting her and was forced to take an invigorating nap.
Our dressmaker took some tea with my embroiderer before dashing home for she had so much to do before the ball. The room grew quiet again but for my purring and the chuckle of the embroiderer as she realised what she had sewn. A small group of flowers. She put the work down and made a fuss of me, which pleased me no end. She kissed me, stroked me and spoke to me in the most appalling baby talk. Still, I forbore it because I knew she loved me even tho' I had not the cuteness of a kitten. The evening grew on and a knock at the house door meant I was forced to get up and sit on the sofa. I was still half asleep, but there was no mistaking the voice of the young Lady Muxloe. She entered the room with my embroiderer and seeing me remarked that we had met.
"Such a charming cat," she remarked honestly.
I purred to show I understood and she sat beside me picking me up and putting me on her lap, where once more I was forced by habit if nothing else to relax. Lady Muxloe apologised to my embroiderer for coming at so late an hour. She had been thinking about it when she should have acted sooner. She picked me up and strolled about the room, placing me over her shoulder and stroking my back as she paced. I sighed and tried my best to relax, flexing my paws very gently on her bare shoulders tho' I would rather have been snoozing on her shawl.
"I know you to be a most excellent needlewoman," she told my embroiderer, "and I am in want of a simple white dress with blue embroidery. Would you mind making one for me? I should like it to be someone in the village rather than sending away for the work to be done. I remember also that you were a good friend to me when I was a rather troublesome girl! I have improved most markedly since then, I assure you," she said with a sparkling smile, which I saw in the mirror.
My embroiderer assured her that she would be delighted to make such a dress. Then I am afraid to say, instead of making a fuss about me they talked about the porcelain up at the manor house. It appeared they both liked it, but I was allowed down from my Lady's shoulder and had settled to sleep before I could hear much more.
Thanks to that nocturnal visit, my embroiderer spent the next few days very busy. She made up a dress of the finest white cotton muslin and lined it with silk. All about the bodice and skirts she embroidered two dragons of the Chinese variety and at the hem she embroidered flowers of such exquisite beauty that even I avoided sleeping on them. I admit I was not impressed with the dragons. Cats are not overly fond of bigger predators than themselves as a rule. Still, I had to admit my embroiderer had done superb work with her needle.
Two nights before the ball, Lady Muxloe came again and tried on the dress. She was greatly delighted with it and her trilling and laughter echoed about our little house. My embroiderer had also made a pair of fine satin slippers to wear with the dress. Lady Muxloe was thrilled with them, positively thrilled. She had bought a cloak of white velvet with blue trimming to go with the dress. My embroiderer declared that my Lady looked quite beautiful and so she did. Her dark eyes sparkled, her mouth was all smiles and her dark hair contrasted prettily with her pale complexion.
The ball was a success so everyone said. I too found it to be a great success for I was fed salmon by the scullery maid and a little later when I looked through the windows, Lady Muxloe was sitting with a glass of wine in her hand and surrounded by ladies in the most beautiful dresses. I went home, half on the prowl and half strolling. The salmon had left me in an agreeable mood, tho' I knew I would not get any such thing at home.
I came in through the pantry window with its wonderful smells and tipped the latch to get into the kitchen. Cook had gone to bed early so I had not to run through the kitchen, which is not healthy after a good meal.
The following day as my embroiderer took coffee and I rested upon her lap with my paws tucked neatly beneath me, Lady Muxloe was shown into the parlour by Cook. She - my Lady, not Cook, wore a charming straw bonnet with a red ribbon and flowers tucked into the ribbon. Her full-skirted dress, which was quite fashionable had a corsage of flowers and lace at the cuffs. In her hand she held a fan, which she opened and closed as she paced about the room in some delight. It appears that she was quite the belle of the ball and won her bet much to the amusement of her husband. She had come to give my embroiderer half of the money she had won and to thank her. Into my embroiderer's hands she placed a large sum in gold coins. Then she kissed her, picked me up and kissed me too telling me that I was a good cat. Not at all necessary, but I was grateful to be recognised as such, nonetheless.
She had to go, for Lady Bellaire was expected for lunch. She paused and turned to me and wagged her finger in a friendly manner. I hoped.
"Why I almost forgot. One of the scullery maids asked me if I might and I said I would of course, for she's quite right. I have bought salmon. A whole one for you and a half for your charming cat," she said told my embroiderer.
I would have preferred to have had the whole salmon, but I was content to remind myself that I had always liked Lady Muxloe.
The fish was taken through to my arch enemy Cook, but I gained the satisfaction of hearing her told that the half salmon most definitely was 'for the cat' at Lady Muxloe's request. My Lady departed having kissed me again and ruffled my fur. My embroiderer and I settled down again to our peace. My embroiderer picked up the piece she had been working on and put it back in the basket. She took up the white cotton with the blue border and began to embroider. The likeness of Lady Muxloe is not exact, but it has something of her prettiness and her liveliness still. Years later in another reincarnation I came across it in a shop and something stirred in my memory but faded away again. I bought it in the hope the memory would return and it has, tho' with some details not quite as strong. It was some centuries back after all.