Tag Archives: children. birthday parties

another novel excerpt: the birthday

if you’re wondering why i hardly blog these days, it’s because i’m pretty serious about finishing my novel by the end of the year. it’s a long labour of love but i know it’ll get done! here is another excerpt. it’s the plantation owner’s daughter’s 9th birthday, a huge party. her name it elise. the festivities are drawing to a close and …

only in the evening there was another moment that stood out. somehow mama cass, bessie and a few others managed to drag elise away from the festivities. somehow? it was the marita, the governess, who finally did it, she dragged elise away from it all, and it was a good thing because elise, once again, was getting tired. too many adults! too many people who knew about everything – books, clothes, money, horses, what have you. not enough stories, not enough songs. it was with songs that they dragged her away. she heard the humming in the distance, the melody, the drums and banjos and looked up and the governess smiled at her and said, come on. she excused herself and elise to the parents under a pretense or other, who cares which one, and took elise with her to the hedge, into the dark. a little ways they had to move through the shadows; it had become night an hour or so ago, the grasshoppers were chirping loudly, and the scent of everything – the grasses, the earth, the blooming jasmine rose powerfully through the night air. the deeper into the dark the two rushed, the louder the music became. they made a turn, and suddenly they stood in front of dora’s cottage.

“here she is!” someone exclaimed.

there was loud clapping and the music stopped.

she was in the slaves’ quarters.

“miss elise! here you are!” mama cass was beside herself, her voice high and breathless. elise had never seen mama cass anywhere but in the big house; in fact, it had never occurred to her that she might abide anywhere but there, traveling from kitchen to cellar to breakfast room to the herb garden right outside the kitchen. mama cass gestured wildly and moved her eyes and eyebrows about like a horse scared silly –

“five years served i, under master guy,
in the land of virginny-o
which made me for to know sorrow, grief and woe,
when that i was weary, weary, weary-o ….”

dora’s strong, clear voice permeated the night. after the first two verses, the banjo chimed in. a couple of fiddles joined, the light of the little fires burning in front of each cottage shining up into the players. moving up and down, the fiddling arms threw big shadows, in rhythm with tapping feet and clapping hands. then the song stopped, and everyone suddenly had a little bouquet in their hands that they threw up in the air with a big whoop.

“lady elise! long live our lady elise!” they shouted.

“i don’t LIKE it when you call me lady,” exclaimed elise, without complaint in her voice, though – everyone had heard it a hundred times, and they just laughed.

“what should we call you then?” piped up ellie.

“yes, what should we call you? buttercup? lady doll? miss jones patterson?”

“no, no!” she laughed.

“lady rosebud?”

“princess redhair?”

“our lady of the crinkledress?”

“oh, you people are so silly,” she exclaimed, laughing, into the mirth all around. “i like crinkledress. without the lady.”

“i don’t think mr jones patterson would like it if we called you crinkledress,” said bessie.

“but it’s true! my dress is always crinkled and crumpled. i don’t LIKE wearing dresses! i want to wear pants! this dress is beautiful, that’s true,” she looked down on her lovely cloud of white and silver and lilac, “but can you imagine how difficult it was to ride in it? i had to ask jacqueline to make me a special petticoat.”

“you do look adorable in it, adorable,” said jacqueline. there was pride in her voice, and more than pride – love. “and you should have seen your mother, the way she looked at you.”

“anyway, lady – er, miss elise -” said mama cass –

“oh, for tonight, just for now, don’t call me miss!”

“alright then, er, um, elise – we have a few little trinkets for you.”

and the gift giving began again. someone had made a doll out of old cotton dresses and horse hair. someone else had drawn a painting with charcoal. a little apron arrived, made from cotton cloth, adorned with a tiny little silk ribbon. a loaf of honey bread, a coronet of dried flowers – everyone had made something for her.

elise was in tears, couldn’t see anymore all the treasures offered to her. some of the people she didn’t even know by name and yet they had gone to the trouble and expense to make something for her. each piece was crafted with love and care, each piece looked different. look at this little drum here, carved out of a gourd, with those black and red snakes curling in on each other everywhere, and the beautifully knotted string to carry it! even cortez had a friendly smile on his face when he brought her a small illustrated book of psalms.

they fed her dried fruit and buttered mash and a delicious tea – no doubt one of jacqueline’s. the music and singing played on, mingled with the night air, the crickets chirping and the laughter, played with the crackling fire and the smells of good food and flames licking on the grass.

finally marita approached her, whispered, “i think it’s time to go back.”

“no!” elise whispered back urgently, “i like it here! i don’t want to go back! those people are boring!”

marita had anticipated that. “but you told me that you haven’t looked at joe’s gift yet. it’s in your room. let’s go back, say good-bye to the guests, and then you can go to bed and open joe’s gift.”

——

elise was so exhausted when she finally made it to her room. it had still taken an hour for her to extricate herself from the guests; endless goodbyes and wellwishes jumbled all together before her tired eyes. in her room, marita helped her undress. what a lovely, lovely feeling to be rid of all the heavy clothes and to finally fall into the pillows dressed in fresh linen that smelled faintly of citronella and cloves.

clutched in her hand was the gift joe had given her. the leather felt warm and soft in her hands, almost like a little animal. the white cotton string stood out against it, looked so – white. clean. fresh. like stars. lying there in the pillows, elise held it up, turned it around, held it under the light from the three candles in her candleholder by the bed. she wanted to savour the moment of unwrapping it. oh, but she was so tired …

“here, i’ll untie the knots for you,” whispered marita and gently removed the package from the girl’s hands.

wrapped in the blue leather was another little package, wrapped in embroidered cloth. wrapped in that lay a small brown leather pouch, made of leather just as soft as the other. a long string held the little pouch, to hang it around one’s neck, just like the indians do. inside the pouch elise found a smooth, smooth, smooth stone with an indentation the size of a thumb. the leather felt so soft … the stone so smooth …..

“a worry stone for you,” she heard joe’s voice whisper somewhere in the room. “good night, crinkledress.”

and then she was asleep.