Sixteen year old Gloria looked down and smoothed her white apron over her long dress. It was a hot day in June and aprons got so crumpled whilst doing one's chores. Her long blond hair was sticky and her blue eyes watered in the hot sun. But, she mused, the cows are milked, the chickens are fed and the bread is proving in the larder. Eleven o'clock in the morning and she was free to wander across the fields before returning home.
She looked across the valley at the church tower. The spire of the little church where she would be marrying Philip on Sunday glowed in the morning sunlight. Her new wedding gown hung delicately on the back of her bedroom door, a sweet concoction of white silk and lace. Her veil was carefully stored in a large box, but on demand would froth into life and frame her pretty face. Her blue eyes lit up at the prospect, not only of being a bride - but the sensation of being the centre of attention. That was the only problem of being the youngest of five girls, she always moaned, it seemed like she didn't exist. But this would be her moment, her crowning glory. Her elder sisters would have to take a back seat as she took centre stage and said her vows. To honour and obey - the old vows were the best.
Her mother called, her voice drifting over as if from a long way away, and startled Gloria back into the real world. She reluctantly turned and slowly walked back towards the farmhouse that had been her home since she was born. But not for long; on Sunday she would cross the threshold of her own house, one where she would rule and would raise her own family with Philip at the head. Her future married home was a little house on the outskirts of Smyth, handy for the market and also, of course, for the church and school. No tramping across fields for her children, as she and her sisters had done in through their childhood.
But enough dreaming, she chastised herself. There were cushions to embroider and napkins to hem; the last additions to her bottom drawer. There was a phrase from times gone by, bottom drawer. Much like honour and obey it was a phrase redolent of the old times. Shaking the loose blonde hair out of her eyes and the dreams out of her mind, Gloria started to run across the field She let herself in the back gate and trotted up the path which led to the kitchen door.
The range was lit, on its lowest setting as the day was so warm, but ready to burst into fiery life at a command to feed the family. A cat snoozed lazily on a rocking chair and a large floppy dog stretched out in front of the range, absolutely exhausted from a morning spent rabbiting. Beatrice Dennis was peeling carrots and a mound of potatoes was already prepared for the meal. What with her husband Brian, five sturdy daughters and three beefy labourers to feed, it was a godsend that Beatrice really enjoyed cooking large delicious meals. Already Gloria could smell interesting aromas emanating from the bottom shelf of the range as something tasty quietly simmered away to itself.
'Come, Gloria' said her mother. 'Help me prepare lunch for your father. He and the boys will be in shortly and I've still to boil these vegetables.'
Gloria sighed and picked up the huge saucepan and, after filling it with water, placed it on the range and cranked up the fire to get the water boiling.
The hot weather held until Sunday, although the blue skies were starting to lower slightly and the air had become sticky and intense, a sure sign that a storm was on the way. It was ten o'clock and Gloria was slipping her wedding dress over her head. It was so beautiful, such fine stitching. Every time she looked it took her breath away, it was hard to believe that this was her dress, her ticket to freedom. In just two hours she would be Mrs Mantell, Mrs Philip Mantell. Gloria Dennis would be no more. Mrs Philip Mantell, much loved wife of Philip Mantell.
Philip was a tall dark man, with brooding brows and an aura of danger. He travelled where the work was, and one day he found himself in Smyth. Whilst visiting the local market he bumped into a slim blonde girl, basket over one arm, who was looking at the flower stall.
'I do beg your pardon,' he said politely with a smile.
'My fault entirely,' Gloria chuckled. 'I was so engrossed in these beautiful flowers.'
'There is no flower that matches your beauty,' Philip replied chivalrously.
Gloria coloured slightly and bowed her head. Once they had been properly introduced, the courtship flew along and it was only a matter of a couple of months before Philip proposed and Gloria accepted him, thrilled.
Philip was still travelling with the work, so he was away for long periods of time, leaving Gloria and her family free rein to organise the wedding. Philip came back routinely and handed Brian money to help out. He admired the planned flowers, helped pick out a colour scheme and had his say on the design of the cake.
Gloria stood motionless in her new wedding dress, admiring in the full length mirror where it clung to every slender curve of her young body. Her oval face was bathed in the light of her love. Her big blue eyes looked dreamy and she looked radiantly happy. As her veil was gently lowered onto her shiny blonde hair, fluffed into a bouffant style by her older sister Ann, she looked out of the window. She could just see the church from here, a lonely dreamy spire standing among huge trees. Philip would be standing by the altar now, an expectant smile on his face, a new suit and rubbing nervous hands. Gloria quietly slipped off her engagement ring and placed it on her right hand in preparation. It was a simple ring, not expensive or showy, just a public show of their commitment to each other.
Life in Smyth had been difficult since the war. Men, women and children had been ripped from their families; the war had been no respecter of age or worth. Only four years since the harshest war in history. Existence changed beyond recognition and the Earth was reborn from under a cloud. But, as the saying went, life went on - babies were born, graves were dug. The people of Smyth carried the scars of the war, even though the hamlet didn't.
Gloria stood at the altar. Her bouquet was lily of the valley and sweet smelling pink and deep red roses. Her veil modestly hid the sweet contours of her face, but still, she looked elegant and beautiful. She passed the bouquet to Ann and took Philip's hand.
She smiled at him.
He smiled at her.
Pastor Michael smiled at the beautiful young couple in front of him.
'Brethren,' the vicar began in his clear majestic voice. 'We are gathered here, in this church to celebrate the marriage of our beloved Gloria and Philip today, the seventh day of June, in the year of our Lord 1864.'
(c) cq 2005