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Coal Dusters – Chapter LV
Tries on a
“Lillian, it won’t matter what trousers I’m wearing down into the mine. The miner’s overalls will cover all I’m wearing.” Steven tried to joke. “This is the last day I’m joining them. It has been an education.”
“Yes, so you’ve told me every night.” She handed him a pair of brown serge pants.
“I’ve grown up here and yet never knew much about how they lived and worked.”
“Yes, yes. You’ll be able to represent them even better in Ottawa when you run for the Federal seat.”
“When I win!” He snapped his suspenders.
“When you are premier.”
“No! When I’m Prime Minster.”
“Oh, ho! Your dream get bigger every day.”
“With you at my side I have every reason to dream big.”
“Not now!” Lillian avoided his kiss. “They will be taking your picture before you get into the mining gear. You have to keep in mind that people’s eyes will now be on you, more than ever before.”
“I want them to see that I am one of them not some … shop display manikin of …”
“You want to look how the workers want to look themselves someday.” She interrupted him. “These clothes are dressy but simple enough at the same time. Now that things are getting back to normal, the miners will be ready to improve themselves.”
“I do wish you would be coming with me.”
“A woman in the mines!” Lillian laughed. “Worse than a woman on board a ship. No!”
“At least come with me. Be there when I go down with them. The other wives will be there everyday so far to celebrate their men returning to work. There’ll be those cameramen, too.”
“Dressed this way!” Lillian pointed out her housecoat and slippers. “By the time I’m prepared to go anywhere, they’d have hauled up the first ton of coal.”
A car horn tooted outside the house.
“There’s Gus now to take you along. Be sure to send him back with the motor directly, so me and Clara can go to Sydney.”
“That’s right. To your store there. They have some new wedding dresses for …”
“Wedding dresses.” Steven broke into a wider smile. “You mean …”
“That’s right you can confirm that the date is two weeks from today.”
The car horn tooted again.
Lillian went to the porch with him. As he got into the car she leaned in to remind Gus to bring the motor back.
She took Steven’s breakfast plate to use herself and was eating toast when Clara come down to breakfast.
“You’ve seen Steven off?”
“Yes. He’s looking forward to the official reopening of the mines more than the miner’s are.”
“No doubt. He only has to go down once more. They have to go down everyday.”
“He wanted to know enough to answer any questions the reports might have.”
Lillian dabbed a piece of her toast in the egg yolk on the plate.
“I see you’ve eaten.”
“Only some toast.” She glanced down. “Oh goodness! I’ve used Steven’s plate! Uncle Pat lived so simply he only had one plate, one cup for his breakfast. I’d wait till he was finished before having my own. It did mean less washing up. Strange how a habit starts and sticks with you.”
She put the plate on the sideboard.
“I’ll get dressed for the drive while you have something to eat.” Lillian said.
Once she had changed her clothes she made sure her two war bonds where in her purse. She hadn’t told anyone about finding them and planned to deposit them in a bank in Sydney. Knowing she had a something to fall back on when she needed it made her fell more secure. Ready cash could come in handy.
The road to Sydney was fairly smooth though Lillian did have to hold to her hat a few times. Sydney wasn’t nearly as large as Boston but after spending so much time in Castleton it appeared to be huge a metropolis. There were more cars than she’s seen anywhere else on the island.
She had Gus drop her off at a corner a couple blocks away from O’Dowell’s.
“I’ll take a little walk to see more the shops.” She explained to Clara. “I’ll meet you at the store.”
She watched until the car was out of sight and went onto the Bank of Montreal which she knew was not the one the O’Dowell’s used.
It took her longer than she expected to open an account of her own. Luckily the manager recognized her from Steven’s campaign so establishing her identity wasn’t an issue. It would take two weeks at least for the funds for the bonds would be in her account.
O’Dowell’s Sydney store was a three-floor building on Charlotte Street corner. Even though it was several years old it still had the feeling of newness to it. The name was in gold letters in arcs on all of the front windows. Over the main entrance there was stained glass with the name illuminated so the sun appeared to shining through it always.
On the first floor was housewares. Lillian admired the gleaming stove and refrigerators.
“Eyeing possible wedding presents?” Clara asked.
“I was thinking this was the type of gift my family would never give. Too practical. They’d be more inclined to send something of this sort.” Lillian walked over to the fine china department. “A large, fancy, floral set of chinaware that could only be used once or twice a year, if that often.”
At the back of the first floor was a Toys and Children’s Furnishings department.
Lillian looking longingly at the line of dolls standing on a shelf on one wall.
“Planning children?” Clara asked.
“Yes. But I was wondering what had become of my doll collection.” She’d left so much behind when she came to Cape Breton. Being in O’Dowell’s reminded her painfully of the many things she’d lost.
They took the lift up to the second floor. It was Men’s and Women’s Wear. When she stepped off the lift the first thing she saw was a mannequin in a short, pale green, one-piece dress. The skirt was pleated and the top had a loose beaded fringe around the neck.
“Oh.” Lillian sighed. “That is so pretty.”
“Pretty yes.” Clara touched the hem. “Too short to be practical.”
“It’s not meant to be practical Clara. It is meant to be pretty.”
Clara lead her to the back of the store to the bridal area.
“Missus O’Dowell.” A small woman with a strange accent scurried out from a side room. “What a great pleasure it is to see you.
“Thank you Karina.”
“Ah, and this must be Miss McTavish. Let me look at you.” She stepped back to gaze at Lillian. “Such a waist. In old country girls would be fattened up before being married. Here, ach, they want them skinny as boys.”
“You have something to show us.” Clara asked.
“Yah. Yah. You wait here. I get.” She went into the side room and came back out with two boxes. “Now the lace isn’t as good as we’d make back in Koniakow but I haven’t forgotten how. This first one is very traditional.” Karina took out a full bodied, white dress with a neck high top, long lacy white sleeves and full wide bottom. “Some crinolines will make you appear to be a queen. The veiling is quite simple though.”
She held it up against Lillian. Lillian pressed the dress’s shoulders to hers and stepped back. It was similar to ball gowns of her mother’s she had envied. The bodice had seed pearls in an arc across the breast bone. She kicked out the bottom so it bounced lightly in the sun. She did a twirl so that it wrapped around her legs before falling away as she stood in front of the mirror.
“Lovely.” Clara said wiping a tear away from her eye. “The sort of dress I would have loved to have been married in.”
“Oh, yes. The young lady looks radiant even holding such a dress. It’s been so long since anyone has wanted such a gown. Things being as they have been.” Karina shook her head. “But perhaps that will change now.”
“It is more than words can say.” Lillian stared at herself in the mirror. Could this be the same girl who was cowering in fear as her uncle struck out at her?
“This other is much … plainer. Miss McTavish insisted we order it as it is more … modern.”
“You make modern sound more of a disappointment than an improvement.” Lillian replied, reluctantly handing the gown back to Karina.
The other dress was a simple sheath with a similar high neck but shorter sleeves. The white satin had a green and gold sheen to it as it caught the light. It had a small hat of the same fabric with a simple veil attached to it.
“It is lovely.” Lillian knew this was the one for her. She held it up to herself and stood in front of the mirror. The color complimented the red of her hair while the length would allowed some of her calves to show. “I’ll try this on, if you don’t mind.”
She saw Clara’s look of disappointment.
“How long would alterations take, of either?” Lillian asked.
“This one a few days. The beautiful lace one a week or more.”
Lillian stood in front of the mirror in the sheath dress.
“This one won’t need alterations at all.” She said with a smile. “I do think it conveys the right message as well. After the hardships of the summer the other one is too …”
“Opulent.” Clara said. “You only get married once.”
“Yes.” Lillian teared up as she looked at her reflection.
“Perhaps one for the wedding and the other for the reception?” Clara suggested. “Do try it on. For me?”
“Of course.” She took the larger dress. It weighed much more than the simpler one. The hem fell below her feet so she had to lift it up as she walked from the dressing room.
“It is …” Clara walked around her. “It is stunning.”
Lillian didn’t recognize herself in the mirror. The wedding dress was all she could see.
“I do prefer the other dress.” Lillian said. “It is something I could wear again, but this …. No, it is too stunning for me.”
Lillian came out of the dressing room and handed the elaborate dress back to Karina. “The simple one is perfect. Perhaps a more elaborate veil with it would be in order.”
“Yes.” Karina’s face lit up. “I can have something. How soon.”
“Two … ?” Lillian said.
She was interrupted by alarm bells.
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