I'm going to try to do something different every week. Mostly I'll try to post Ashley and Andrew's story, but it might be my thoughts on a book I just finished. But for tonight, on with Ashley and Andrew...
"Miss Ashley? You a'right?" Matty asked me. I had been staring at the Flower Garden pattern of the quilt on my bed. I shook my head to clear it of the memory and smiled.
"I'm fine, Matty. What time is it?"
"Goodness! It be about eight o'clock!" she exclaimed, getting up and moving toward the fireplace. I flung my legs over the edge of my bed and slid my feet into satin slippers that had been a birthday present from Daddy. I walked across the room to join Matty at the fireplace where she was just dumping the last pail of hot water into the hip bath. I loved bathing in the mornings. It woke me up and gave me energy for the day. She pulled a thrice-folded screen from the wall and set it up around the bath. A large piece of mirrored glass was placed on the center screen so that the heat and light of the fire would be reflected to my wrong side. I shed my long cotton nightdress, tossed it over one edge of the screen, and stepped into the hot, fragrant waters. Matty had put just a bit of lemon oil in the water this morning. The bath was deep enough that I could scoot down and duck under the water to scrub my head. I came up for air and reached for the rough cloth and the lemon soap Cook made me. I scrubbed myself down, then laid my head back and closed my eyes. The warm water was so relaxing. What seemed like moments later, I heard Matty come over.
"Miss Ashely, you gon' stay in there all day? It almost eight thirty!" I opened my eyes and sighed.
"Yes, Matty. Give me a moment and I shall be dried off." I climbed out of the bath and rubbed myself vigorously down with a large square of cotton. I slid the chemise Matty had hung from one end of the screen over my head, put my feet back in my slippers, and walked around the screen, squeezing water from my hair. Matty was waiting for me. She pulled the screen back against the wall. I sat down on a small stool and and began to dry my hair in front of the fire. Matty pulled up another stool with brush and pins in hand. she sat, brushing out the snarls that sleep and water had created. As she brushed one section, I continued drying another. Even as long as my hair was, it only took us fifteen minutes to get it completely dry. Then came the hair pins. With Matilda's deft and nimble fingers, she had my hair up beautifully, with just the faintest whisper of curls at the nape of my neck and the sides of my face. I stepped into the white muslin pantaloons first, followed by the starched petticoats and then the corset. I held onto the bedpost as Matty tightened the laces.
"Glad you still slender, Miss Ashley!" she grunted. Laces tied tightly, we walked over to the dress stand where she had the sky blue lawn waiting. I crouched down as much as I could and raised my arms above my head. Matty worked the dress over my head, and I slid my arms into the sleeves as Matty buttoned up the back. The sleeves ended just above my elbows, trimmed in white lace I had made. Matty made sure that the back was gathered properly. As she finished, I reached over to a peg on the wall and handed her a wide, deep blue sash that she tied around my waist into a bow in the back, the ends trailing down to the middle of the skirt. I walked over to a chest and picked up a small gold locket. It had belonged to my grandmother, then my mother; now it was mine. I fastened the clasp and hung the locket in the center of my chest. Matty tied a blue ribbon that matched the sash of my dress and pinned it just in front of the knot of hair. She bent down and worked stockings onto my feet and up my calves, then the soft leather ankle boots that I was fond of rounded out my dress. When she was finished, she stood up and looked at me with an appraising eye.
"Chile, you look beautiful!" Matty exclaimed. I blushed. "You sure gon' turn some heads today." I looked back into the large mirrored glass, pinched my cheeks to give them more color, and smiled.
"All the more reason for the dress, Matty," I responded. Daddy and I had our outings for a purpose - he hoped to find me a Southern gentleman that would treat me the way I deserved to be. I swept back over to the pegs and found the blue wristlet that I could carry my handkerchief in, along with a small vial of lemon oil and some pin money that I had, in case I found some ribbon or a hair comb or 'such nonsense,' as Daddy called it, that I liked. He always said it with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, so I knew he was teasing me. Matty and I left my room and headed downstairs, arm in arm, Matty carrying my bonnet. Daddy was standing at the bottom, waiting.
"You look absolutely wonderful, Ashley," Daddy commented. I beamed. We reached the bottom where Matty helped me with my bonnet, tying the ribbons to the right side of my chin. I took my father's arm after putting on my gloves and we walked out to the carriage. He helped me in, climbed in, and whistled to our driver.
"Where are we going today, Daddy?"
"Well, I actually do have to go into my office, but not for very long. Do you think you can amuse yourself for about an hour while I am working?"
"Of course, Daddy. How much trouble could I get into?" I said as a smile crept over my lips. He shook his head.
"Darlin', you don't want me to respond to that. I remember a certain young lady that took out an entire rack of men's clothing, along with the tailor's pin table!"
"Daddy!" I chided him. "I haven't done that since I was ten," I laughed, shaking my head at him. He laughed back, and we rode along into Hattiesburg, into the business district.