It was the week before Christmas when I first noticed the milliner’s daughter. The shop was bustling with the familiar Yuletide mob of young society ladies, overbearing mothers and adoring husbands.
My husband was the reason I was there myself. For the fifth year in a row, he had decided to give me a new hat for Christmas. Except, on this occasion, he was unable to find the time to commission it himself. Instead, he handed over his purse and sent me to the shop to purchase my own gift. I could have taken the money and bought something I truly desired, but a hat was expected.
The milliner was appalled by the eleventh-hour request. “A week before Christmas?! It can’t be done! It don’t matter how much money you have in there, it can’t be done!”
I looked around hoping no-one heard him, the implications of his rebuttal sending agony through my soul. A married woman, with no Christmas gift from her husband! What would everyone say?
That’s when an unlikely savior came to my rescue. “I can get it done, papa,” said a young woman, appearing from the back of the shop.
I searched my memory, but I could not recall ever seeing her before; perhaps, I simply was not paying attention. The milliner’s daughter was not a particularly striking girl but possessed an understated type of beauty girls her age cannot escape – velvety skin, luscious locks, and eyes full of life, regarding me with an intensity I first mistook for admiration.
“You go on then,” her father said. “If the lady doesn’t mind.”
I gave them a curt nod. It was a slight, no question about it, but it was better than nothing. Perhaps the girl would surprise me by making a good hat, good enough it could pass for her father’s and none would be the wiser.
That first encounter was brief. She showed me a few ribbons and fabrics. I selected a dark grey satin, but she swayed me to a crimson organza that would “draw the eyes to the rouge of my lips.” She made it sound like a desirable outcome, so I agreed.
After we were finished with materials and sketches, she bid me goodbye and asked me to return in a few days. I distinctly remember a foreign exhilaration as I left the shop. A new hat is always exciting, I told myself and didn’t give it another thought.