After fulfilling her duties, she waited for Mr. Digby to unlock the door. She glanced toward the hallway as if hoping the fetching gentleman would appear again, but darkness was all she saw.
As time went by, Willie noticed that Albert was becoming more attentive. He made her blush once more when he asked if anyone had ever told her that she was beautiful. She said, “only my Papa, sir.” He looked at her and said, “allow me the privilege to say that you are very beautiful, and I would be honored if you would call me Albert.”
“As you wish, sir,” she said. “as you wish, Albert,” he said. She was nervously trying to find her words, and caused them both to laugh when she said, “as you wish, Sir Albert.” Willowdean boldly asked if he was one of “the” Middletons. “I am indeed,” he said. “My father owns the factory, and I come in to make sure things are going swimmingly. Now, you and I must both get to work.”
He held her gaze until he disappeared into the darkness, and she wondered if what she was feeling was love or infatuation, or just experiencing happiness from being noticed. She was both excited and terrified. She knew the love of her family, but she had never known the love of a man. In a brief moment of fantasy, she dared to think of a life with the dashing Albert Middleton, but quickly snapped back into reality and began her chores.
The next Monday, she asked Papa if she could wear her mothers’ ribbon. On special occasions, Enez wore a bright red ribbon tied around her hair. It was one of Papas’ most treasured possessions, and he was surprised by Willies’ request. She had never asked that of him before.
He smiled and wondered if some “fetching gentleman” had caught Willies’ eye. He went into the bedroom and opened the small wooden box he had kept the ribbon in for the last five years. As he took it out, a flood of memories momentarily overtook him. He ran his hand across the box and whispered, “I’ll tell you about this tomorrow, my love.”
When he handed the ribbon to Willie, he said, “you must be careful with this. You know how dear it is to me.” Willies’ eyes lit up as she hugged Papa, and said, “you know I will treasure it, just as you do.”
As she carefully tied the ribbon around her long dark hair, Papa wished he could halt time, if only for that instant. She looked so much like her mother, and although he couldn’t help the feeling of sadness, he also felt overwhelming joy.
“How do I look Papa?” she asked. With misty eyes he said, “you look beautiful, child.”
Willie arrived at the factory on Monday, patiently awaited Albert’s arrival, and wondered if he would take notice of the ribbon in her hair. After several hours, she turned and there he was.
He walked up to her and with his hands behind his back, teasingly told her to pick one. Anxiously, she motioned toward his left hand. When he revealed what it held, she suddenly felt as if the room was spinning. Afraid that her knees might buckle, she steadied herself against a table, and quickly apologized for her almost swoon.
Albert was concerned, and asked if she was alright. She lied when she said, “yes, sir. Quite alright. What a delightful surprise. You are so very thoughtful.”
“Are you sure you’re alright?” he asked. “You’re not looking very jolly.”
“I’m quite alright,” she repeated. Again, she lied. She was shaken to the core, and unsure of exactly what she was feeling. It was an almost eerie uneasiness.
As he walked down the long dark hallway, she watched in stunned silence. When he disappeared, she realized that she had been holding her breath, and felt as if her lungs were about to burst. She took a deep breath and tried to regain her composure.
Willie was disciplined and although she was clearly unnerved, she began her daily routine. She thought humming Christmas carols as she had done in the past, would be a good distraction, but she found that she was temporarily unable to recall the tunes.
She was light-headed and it seemed that she had somehow lost time when she realized that she didn’t remember dusting the rows of sewing machines, although it was clearly evident that she had. Forcing herself back into some semblance of her normal routine, she hurriedly emptied the waste baskets and began to sweep.
The last chore, as always, was mopping, and she learned to make sure that she had the brush close at hand for the large dark stain that mysteriously appeared every Monday.
She had hoped to see Albert again, but he had never before returned after he disappeared down the long dark hallway, and today was to be no exception. He had made no mention of the ribbon in her hair, and she couldn’t hide her disappointment. She had worn it just for him and given that he always sported a bright red bow tie, she was hoping that he would somehow make the connection.
As she stood at the door, waiting for Mr. Digby to arrive and release her to the outside world, her hand began to tremble as she looked at the gift given to her by Albert. Once again, she feared that her knees might buckle, and her heart was beating faster than the wings of a wild bird, desperately trying to escape capture.
When Mr. Digby finally opened the door, she was surprised when he uncharacteristically spoke to her. “What have you got there, lass?” he asked.
Trying to calm her quivering voice, she said “a dandelion.”
To be continued____________________