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June 14, 2024
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1934: The Patchwork Quilt

Published in The Picton Gazette, 23 May, 1934

“Oh, mother! Isn’t it just sweet of auntie to give her lovely patchwork quilt to the bazaar? It’s almost a shame to sell it, though!”

The clear young voice rang out with girlish enthusiasm, touched with a vague regret, as The Girl looked up into The Little Mother’s face from her lowly position on the big white sheet which had been spread on the study floor for the reception of some of the bazaar offerings now inundating the vicarage.

The Little Mother stooped and fingered the quilt gently, a tender, half-sad smile on her lips.

“See, dear, how each large diamond is composed of many very narrow strips of velvet or silk, increasing or diminishing in length as required; notice the distinctive effect of the squared ends of the strips, the lovely intricate design of the centrepiece.” She folded back a corner and regarded the pretty pale blue lining appreciatively. “Auntie suggests three guineas, and it’s worth far more, but I’m afraid in Rugenham we shall not obtain even that price.”

“It must have taken ages to make it; I’m sure I could never have the patience,” commented The Girl half enviously. Then she rose, and lingeringly helped The Little Mother to fold the heavy handsome quilt. Something in the expression of the older woman’s face arrested The Girl’s attention, and, slipping her arm through her mother’s, with a gesture half shy, half confiding, she said diffidently—

“Mother dear, do you know why auntie never used the quilt, after all?”

The Little Mother paused, looking down at the sparkling ring upon the slim white hand resting so lightly upon her arm.

“You were too young to know at the time, but now you may hear and understand. Auntie has had a great sorrow in her life. Like you, she was engaged at eighteen; they loved each other truly, I am convinced, They quarrelled, a few weeks before the wedding. It was all a mistake, but they were young, impetuous and proud. Each determined not to be the first to apologize, to ask forgiveness. I was spending the week end at your grandpa’s at the time. I remember how he—The Man—flung out of the gate, slamming it tempestuously behind him; I can hear it now. He called out from the lane that he would not write or return unless auntie wrote—he would go to Canada. I saw him turn the corner, his face white and haggard with misery, yet his eyes flashing proudly, and his head haughtily erect. Then I entered the drawing-room, to find auntie huddled in a corner of the big Chesterfield, sobbing heart-brokenly.”

“Poor auntie!—poor uncle that never was!” sighed The Girl sympathetically, caressing her ring; perhaps also—who knows?—secretly registering a vow not to let the sun go down upon her wrath if she ever—unthinkable event!—should quarrel with The Donor of the Ring.

“Well, dear, after talking to your dear grandpa, auntie wrote The Man a little letter—grandpa was going out with a handful of letters to the post—then auntie went on sewing her quilt with her old light-hearted song upon her lips. Your auntie possessed a very sweet voice in those days, and The Man loved to hear her sing; he would sit by the piano listening, entranced, and he was constantly giving her new songs. She has some of them now.”

“Auntie never sings now,” murmured The Girl. “Perhaps she will sing at the bazaar concert, mother. We are still short of vocalists.”

“Perhaps,” returned The Little Mother doubtfully. “Well, the quilt was finished; auntie had always said laughingly that it was for her ‘bottom drawer’; but no word came from The Man in reply to the poor little letter.

Presently we learnt that he had gone to Canada, and we never heard another word from him. He had no relatives in the town. That was ten years ago, my dear, and—”

The Little Mother said no more, but The Girl, her eyes brimming with tears, again touched her engagement ring with loving fingers.

“Oh, mother! and it was for auntie’s home! How could she bear to part with it? She must love it so much!”

The Little Mother’s face was a curious blending of pleasure and pain.

“Auntie loves it, dear; perhaps more than we can guess. But you know how poor she is, and how she loves to help your father’s church. This is her sacrifice.”

The Girl did not speak, Possibly she could not. Gathering the big quilt in her arms, she moved carefully across the crowded floor to place it with other articles intended for the

“Household and Useful and Fancy Articles” stall. Suddenly she paused and looked back at The Little Mother.

“Mother, what a delightful faint scent of lavender! It would be like a fragment of an old-fashioned village story to sleep under that quilt. They always have lavender-scented sheets, with roses growing round the tiny lattice windows—I don’t mean windows of the sheets, mumsie!” She broke off with that winsome girlish laugh which always reminded The Little Mother of auntie’s of ten years ago. “Don’t look so shocked! The quilt does smell sweetly, doesn’t it really?”

The Little Mother smiled.

“That was a pretty idea of your auntie’s, dear. She stitched little packets of lavender in each corner—you can feel them, can’t you? She was finishing the last corner the night she wrote the letter he never answered.”

“Mother, I don’t believe The Man every received the letter! Or, if he did he didn’t truly love her! He couldn’t have ignored it if he loved her, could he?” The young enthusiastic voice was raised appealingly. Auntie was such a dear, and so pretty too, though her face was thin, and her hair slightly touched with grey.

The Little Mother kissed the anxious face.

“Dear, I’ll tell you what we’ll do. If no one purchases the quilt, your Little Mother will buy it for your new home.”

The Girl squeezed her mother’s arm tightly. Poor auntie! The Girl, in her own great happiness, felt more and more sorry for her.

The bazaar was going well. The Little Mother, The Girl, and The Girl’s Father,

known to ordinary mortals as the Vicar, had been busy from early morning, helping, arranging, and superintending all manner of things. The Vicar told The Girl teasingly that she was becoming a capital I organizer, and The Donor of the Ring would find her an ideal “vicaress” presently.

They were all tired now, and the Vicar and The Girl had yielded to the organist’s solicitations, and made their way to the cool, prettily decorated little hall where the concert was about to begin. With a restful sigh the Vicar sank back in a chair, passed an impatient finger round his collar, and fanned his warm face with a programme. The Girl sat beside him, but her gaze wandered restlessly to the door, round which were clusters of girls in pretty summer frocks, and men, some in flannels, other in more prosaic city attire, chatting in low animated tones before entering.

“Watching for your mother? I wish she would come—she will be tired out.”

“I—I was not really watching for her!” admitted The Girl, blushing adorably. “She and auntie are doing something to auntie’s patchwork quilt; they thought some fresh lavender would be nice. Then she will come. I was only wondering—”

“All right, my dear!” smiled the discerning Vicar. “I am glad,” he went on thoughtfully, “that your aunt will sing for us. She had a charming voice in the old days, very like your mother’s.”

“What is she singing, father? Please lend me your programme; I’ve lost mine, or something. Oh, how dear of her! See, father, it’s ‘Love’s Old Sweet Song!’”

“S-s-s-sh!” warned the Vicar, as the organist took his seat preparatory to opening the proceedings with a pianoforte solo.

The concert had been in progress some time when The Little Mother tip-toed through the side door towards the seat the Vicar had retained for her. She seemed hot and disturbed by something, and tried to whisper in his ear, but as he bent towards her, auntie stepped quietly on to the platform to sing.

Auntie looked very pretty and girlish in her dainty white summer frock, so simply made. For a moment, as the organist softly played the symphony of the old-time ballad, she fingered the solitary pink rose at her breast a trifle nervously. Her eyes were strangely bright, and in her cheeks, The Girl noted there was a delicate, unaccustomed colour, rivaling that of the flower. Then she sang.

“Oh, father, isn’t she lovely?” breathed The Girl ecstatically.

The Little Mother still unavailingly desired to tell The Vicar something and her face which had been flushed was now pale.

“Even today we hear Love’s song of yore.”

The sweet tones filled the air, low and tender, yet somehow thrilling and vibrant. with feeling.

“Poor Auntie,” thought The Girl pitifully.

At first, a silence more expressive than the usual crash of applause. Then, in response to the ensuing salvo, auntie, smiling and animated, appeared again on the little platform to bow her acknowledgments.

Suddenly she seemed to forget the audience, her gaze fixed on a certain spot; the pretty colour left her cheeks she swayed uncertainly.

The Vicar sprang forward, but a man, tall, thin and bronzed, having the indefinable but unmistakable atmosphere of a Colonial about him, had already mounted the short flight of steps, and was leading auntie away, supporting her tenderly in his arms.

The Little Mother pulled the Vicar unceremoniously back to his seat.

“It’s The Man—John himself! Oh, and now I can tell you! Auntie’s letter was sewn up in the patchwork quilt when she put in the lavender—he never received it. We found it just now.”

Outside, The Man was incoherently comforting auntie and explaining and accusing himself, simultaneously. Presently he led her towards the refreshment tent with its pretty draperies, and the inviting tables under the cool shade of the sweet-scented limes.

“So both our letters were lost. I was a fool to trust uncle’s old man-servant. And I might never have seen you, if my old chum, your organist, hadn’t asked me to attend the concert. Dear heart, you will come to Yellowgrass?”

Her happy smile assured him.

When, as the sun was disappearing behind the limes, The Little Mother, the Vicar, and—at a modest distance—The Girl and The Donor of the Ring approached, they could hear the two reunited lovers singing softly under the roses—

“Still to us at twilight comes Love’s old sweet song.”

The Vicar called to them gaily—

“We just wanted to tell you that we have decided to give you as a wedding present a very handsome patchwork quilt, the work of the bride.”

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 21 edition of The Picton Gazette
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