Three score years ago Rafe and Inge Ratchet had three fine daughters. The first was Else, a sturdy lass with a rather course face: rough edged but constantly sparking. Her countenance as if a jig-saw puzzle, pieces forced into displacement against their will. The twins, Mary and Chloe arrived one year later. Mary was slight but pretty in contrast, and Chloe even slimmer, a little gaunt and as tall as an oak. They were rather nervous girls, always nattering quietly to one another and themselves, in a secret pact of assurance.
Rafe worked as a clerk to keep his family, and was a quiet studious fellow of average height, no hair of which to speak, more a dressing for both neatly set ears. He had a rather round moon-like face and a jovial temperament. Rafe dressed conservatively in tweed, a white shirt with his favorite bow tie of clan tartan, and a pair of gold-framed round glasses that sat precariously at the very tip of his nose. Inge worked for a milliner, for she loved hats more than anything. She was a handsome and creative woman of rotund by shapely stature and a keen determination. A quiet but devout mother who dressed impeccably within the parameters of their income, she dreamed of one day making her own hats, in her own way.
After the births of Mary and Chloe, Rafe grew wearisome of city life and longed to live in the highlands, all that fresh air, and away from the sinful city, where he could keep an eyes on his tribe of daughters, away from all those young no-goods who would be sniffing around their door. Inge, enthused by the idea of following her dream and opening a millinery shop, whole-heartedly agreed and so the family set out on an adventure.
Rafe, who was surprisingly dexterous, built a fine home on the slopes of a glen high up into the mountains, where all was green and fresh and life was as uncomplicated as could be. A creek ran quietly along the valley floor and they had everything they needed. The village of Muldoon was just a half day’s walk away and with one horse, a dairy cow, some chickens and a lively vegetable garden, the Rachets were content.
Rafe would hunt for rabbits and the occasional elk, which kept them fed and healthy. He sold the rabbit skins at the Saturday market in Muldoon until Inge suggested he make felt, so she could take to hat making and perhaps sell them at the market. Within months they had produced a line a stunning hats, never seen before by anyone of their era. They were colorful with lace and feathers and silver pins that Inge had for years collected, and were unlike any of the clans. They were stylish and at first sale became the talk of Muldoon.
Within six months several families have moved to the glen, to help hunt for rabbit, make felt, dye, and one as a silversmith to design and make pins for the hats. The glen with its fresh running water and its mild slopes was both picturesque and practical for habitation and it wasn’t long before a village was born, known to all at Hatter’s Glen.
Many years past and Hatter’s Glen became a thriving village, even larger than Muldoon. Huts and houses staggered the slopes of the glen, while pathways were dug into the sides and many bridges erected over the running stream at the center. It was so unique and pleasing to the eye and all the little shops bartered for trade, offering clothing, foodstuffs and just about anything required. The lower lands were a patchwork garden of produce; everything from oats to corn to leafy greens, potatoes and carrots. And a plethora of fruit trees lined the lower slopes. Hatters Glen was a miraculous, thriving haven of life.
Sun eclipsed the ragged stone monolith above and light hesitantly edged its way into the glen. The glimmer of morning dew upon heather rimmed the upper valley as light chased shadows along the creek cut floor. Thatched roofs, one by one were light engaged, as distinct blue ethereal smoke like ribbons attached to sky, marked the first stoked fires of the morning.
Miss Elsie Ratchet stood atop the milliners stoop, her hob-nailed boot laden feet, apart, rocking on her heals, rotund form swaying, hands matron-like clenched behind, happily watching day unfurl as if she alone had orchestrated it. She was a bulbous woman, with one heavy dark brow lower than the other, and a one-eyed tick, like a constant winking with a nervous cud chewing. She had a ruddy, round face, and an innate wrought iron will and resolve.
With sun securing the glen, Elsie relinquished and slipped inside the shop, bell reverberating as she flipped the open sign and peered out one last time, eye twitching, mouth busy, fully committed. She then disappeared; the pane now just a deep shadow reflection. Day had begun, in Hatters Glen.
On the opposite side of the creek that meandered between the two sides of the village, a thin man with a simple bowler hat and tweed coat looked longingly toward the milliner’s shop. For he had a thing for Elsie, a long standing crush on a woman who with little effort could snap him in two. But there was a twinkle in his eye and an uncomfortable feeling in his groin each time he saw her. Thomas J. Hawkins was an Englishman who found employ rabbiting, and for the last six months a deep seated longing for Elsie. He of course said nothing as his love for her was matched only by his fear.
Thomas was bone-thin, and his narrow face a mass of ginger whiskers sprinkled with grey. Under his bowler there was a rather large bald patch that he preferred hidden and he was a nervous chap, who occasionally stuttered in discomfort. He wore a pale brown tweed suit with a fine black lined check pattern and always wore a sprig of heather in his lapel. His pants were a little short and his high laced brown boots looked too big for his slender body. But he was a good man, someone who was both trustworthy and true. After a nip of whisky from his hip flask he headed home to his small abode at the end of the shops. He had work to do, and Elsie remained in mind but out of reach. But as life would have it, his quiet and deep-seated feelings were about to be confronted.
“Elsie, could ye please go to Thomas an fetch those pelts he owes us. We’re short and the dyin will put us behind,” asked Rafe, carefully cutting some felt.
Elsie’s face went into a floury of twitches, one eye blinking up a storm.”Can’t Mary go; what aboot the customers?”
“There are no customers, we’ve just opened,” he replied sternly, not seeing a problem. He turned and looked at Elsie questioningly.
“Fine, I’m goin,” she spat, blustering her way through the shop and out the door. The shop bell rattled like a freight train.
Those hob-nailed boots thudded down the wooden pathway and then across the bridge to the other side of the village proper. The gentle sound of the creek permeated the village and above darting swallows crossed the endless blue sky. When passers by saw Elsie coming they sided up to the shop fronts to avoid her massive frame, the quake from her steps creating a wave along the path. When she arrived at Thomas’ house, well hut would be more precise, she saw him through a front window putting on his hunting overalls, hopping around with one leg out, trying to remain upright. Elsie hammered on the door so hard the entire timber hut shook to its foundations. Poor Thomas, seeing who it was panicked and went head over heals into his iron pot stove, rebounding off with a squeal and scurrying to his feet, his face a bright scarlet.
“Stop muckin aboot Thomas, we naed those pelts ye owe,” she spat, none too impressed.
A moment later Thomas sheepishly opened the door, his arms filled with about a dozen freshly cured pelts. “Good morning Elsie, a fine day for it….I, I, I mean, w, w, w,well you n n n know,” he fumbled, his eyes a glint, his face so flushed he looked in a fever.
Elsie snatched the pelts rudely and then immediately regretted it, looking into his dark brown eyes.
“It’s lovely to see ye, Elsie,” he said with a little more confidence.
Elsie was bewildered. “Lovely to see me?” she said softly, astonished.
“Well yes Elsie, a fine woman as yeself lights up my stoop…well ye know,” his words not as eloquent as it sounded in his head a moment before.
Elsie’s vacant expression suddenly turned to a crumpled face a twitch. “Dornt be ridiculous,” she snapped, turning on her heals and walking back up the pathway. Thomas sighed, his eyes down turned, thinking that for a moment she responded to him as never before. Then the thought turned into a distant hope and he smiled, his slender face lighting up. “One day ye will be mine,” he whispered.
Meanwhile Elsie strode the path bidding good morn to a plethora of shoppers who now dotted the pathways and bridges of Hatter’s Glen. Hats were tipped ceremoniously, and “Guid mornin to ye!” “Hoo are ye?” and “Lang time Nae see.”echoing through the glen.
As Elsie opened the door to the shop she was confronted by no less than three customers, who Chloe was trying to handle. She was tall and gangly and so nervous she could barely handle one customer let alone three. Elsie rushed to store the pelts and take over the shop.
“I’ll take it from here, Chloe,” Elsie literally pushing her from the counter. Chloe was more than pleased and fled into the back room, away from the prying eyes of the villagers.
“So what takes ye fancy Mrs Mcgillicutty; I won’t be a moment ladies. Please fel free to broose.”
Elsie may have looked like a Sergeant Major, but she was quite amenable and handled people with a deft hand. In no less than a half an hour she had sold three rather expensive hats, one of which was the first of its kind, an experiment that Inge had been working on. It was intricately laced and vibrant green in color with a beautifully fashioned silver pin that finished it off just so. Inge was so excited she immediately began to reproduce the pattern.
“I want this one into Muldoon by the end of week and if it sells, to Edinburgh,” she said excitedly.
Mary pulled out the copy pattern and began cutting out the green felt on the large oak cutting table, while Chloe found the applicable lace and prepared herself, lining up the cotton and needles necessary to undertake the task. Inge sat there for a moment perusing the work area and was so pleased her dream had come to fruition, surrounded by family and enjoying the fruits of her labor.
She was a pretty woman rather tall and robust, what you would call a womanly figure. She was heavy set, full-breasted but had a rather small waist for a woman of her size. Her face was round and filled with kindness. She was unassuming, the quiet hard worker but with a steely will, as her daughter Elsie. Mary got her mother’s looks but was far slimmer and Chloe got the height but her thin physique odd, making them all wonder how that happened. Rake too was rather bulbous, a belly befitting a publican but a strong and broad shouldered frame that was pure masculinity.
Rafe smiled to himself, it did his heart good to see everyone busy and happy, and all those doubts he had harbored for so long, about moving to the highlands were now released as the life they had forged was beyond what they could have hoped for.
When Elsie’s customers had long gone, she stared pensively through the front shop window, recounting Thomas’ words, ”Lovely to see me,” she thought. A tiny glimpse of a smile lit her face and for a short moment, not a tick ensued. It suddenly occurred to her that someone may actually be interested, not something that she ever expected. “I guess Thomas ain’t so bad, a little thin, but a few fine meals will fix that,” she thought.
The shop bell suddenly rang will gusto and Elsies daydream came abruptly to an end. That eye blinked a floury and her brow raised on one side like a flag on a pole. “Mornin Mrs McDougall, a fine dae to be breathin.”
“That it is Elsie. Have ye seen by chance my Ewan, he’s no’ the full shill’n’ ye know and he’s got to wandrin, not content with his wee hens and garden.”
“Can’t say that I’ve seen him for daes Mrs McDougall. Anythin else I can do for ye this fine dae?”
“No dear, I’ll just be lookin some more. I’m fair scunnered, though.”
“You have a guid dae, Mrs McDougall.”
The door slowly closed and the bell jingled to silence as Elsie leaned forward against the counter, dreamily looking into thin air.
Tony DeLorger © 2016
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