Mrs. Simpson's Regency Journal

Mrs Emma Jane Simpson

The Last Day of my Maidenhood.


My little family, as I was to find out soon enough, was lucky because we were accepted by all the villagers where we lived.  But still there were no great friendships I had formed among the young lads and lasses; hence no thought to inviting any of them to come and celebrate with us.

I gave no thought at all to who would witness my country wedding, for my Grandam and mother were the only ones I needed to share the day with.  But George, I soon learnt, thought differently.

At sunset on the day after George had asked me to jump his fine new broomstick with him, a small, wooden cart drew up outside our cottage. With a shout of happiness George had bounded out our cottage door, reached up his arms and was soon swinging a diminutive woman, dressed all in red, around and around in his arms. He finally put her down and to my astonishment and wonder I saw it was The Red Woman we had met with upon the road!

However, wonder and astonishment became a constant state with me as each day brought more carts and horses and people to our cottage.  We were lucky that we lived on the outskirts of the village for soon there was a gay company around our cottage and the fields behind us looked for all the world as if they were hosting St.Bartholomews Fair.

There was a man with swarthy skin and a great silken cloak and conical hat; with a tooth made, he swore, from pure gold! There was a company of small people the likes of whom I had never seen before.  For though each was full grown, they reached barely to my waist, and who seemed to bounce everywhere, rather than walking.

There was a smart, black carriage such as gentry owned, and from it appeared a person whose left side was attired as a man and whose right side was decked out as a woman!

There were ordinary-looking young men who looked like clerks or scriveners, yet who could bring down any fowl with a single shot from a gun, but who preferred to use wooden catapults with the same deadly accuracy.

There were pretty young girls peering shyly through tumbling black curls and sprightly crones with the traces of hard winters etched into the lines around their faces.

The field was lit in the early evenings by lanterns and a big fire where, for all the time leading up to my birthdate, we all gathered together in the evening to cook and eat communally. And afterwards there was singing and dancing which slowed as the evening wore  into story-telling where, of course, I was proud that my Grandam could never be bettered.

In the late afternoon on the eve of my birthday I had been out gathering herbs and so approached the field behind our cottage from a small copse of trees wherein I soon became aware of whispers and giggles. Moving silently as was second nature to me in woods and coppice, I was surprised to see there two of the village girls whom I knew slightly better than the others.

“Whatever are you doing?” I asked from behind them and was instantly sorry, for they jumped, clutched each other, and turned to look at me with faces drained of colour.

“Oh Emma-Jane!”  one of them gasped at length, hand on her bosom and all of a-twitter. “Thank god ‘tis you! We thought mayhap it might be that little red witch and were mortal afeared!”

“Witch?” I was mystified. We had managed to escape that label due to my Grandam’s friendship with the goodwife who had found this cottage for us. But that any of our guests should be thought a witch was a novel thought.

“Aye” Sall, the smaller of the two said, looking around dramatically and lowering her voice “Her who be like a very imp of Satan in her red shoes and her red bonnet and gown.”

 I suddenly realised who they meant: my beautiful, funny, sweet Red Lady! Oh dear gods, even now the whole village would be a-muttering and a-murmuring and egging each other on in mad speculation about her if these two were agog.

“Oh, lasses! I’ve been so silly! I thought you all would sniff at our celebrations – for we’re doing it in the old way,d’ y’know. No churching?” I looked at each of them in turn and could see naught but excitement.

“Yer daft lubey” said Ann, “..that be half the reason we wants to come! Why, every cart and horse and wagon which lumbers down the street has us all half dead with mystification.”

“Should you then, like to come?” They looked at each other and I hurried on “Oh, not you alone – for you could bring, as company, whosoever you liked.” For I doubted either of their mothers would allow them to come alone.

Their faces lit and they jumped up and down in their wooden shoes, and clasped their hands to their bosoms in rapture. Seeing which I was sore ashamed I’d not asked them before this, for considering the throng arrayed in the fields two (or four with their mammas) more was of no account.

And so I went to sleep for a few hours, both heartily thankful that on my last night in Grantham I had pleased two curious girls; and full of joy for the morrow.