PART ONE IN A NEW READ-BY-NUMBER story in which YOU choose the destiny of the narrator…
“It can’t be much further to Belfry,” you tell yourself.
Singled cottages look like grey breadcrumbs as you make your peddling progress along the sandy twisted path. Flashes of nickel-rimmed tires and the ghostly white shirts of the other ladies’ serve as intermittent beacons. The June noon heat nuzzles unwelcoming into collar and corset, but the sun itself, like your companions, is a shadowy sort of chaperone; it creates a dizzying and confusing rhythm as it plays hide and seek between the pine treetops. When you realize you are lost in a cycling cavalcade of over forty young ladies from the Maple Walnut Hill Wheelwomen, you panic for a moment to feel your legs circling like a windmill with epic strides.
“I’m with you, Hattie,” Fern Trumble says as she slows down to ride beside you. “I’m half-melted and I don’t have near as many skirts as you have on.”
The thinly-veiled barb makes you puff up a little stiffly in your woolen Armour and remember your dear mother’s favorite maxim: “Least said, soonest mended.” Fern Trumble has been a neighbor and family friend since you were riding around in prams. Now that you’re both in your thirties, old maids and single, that’s not likely to change, so best to keep the peace. You make some sort of affirmative sniff, sufficient for ownership of your voluminous skirts. Fern in her weirdly Shakespearean sport skirt that looks something like a harem girl’s bottoms to you, her ankles even make you nervous.
“You know, Mattie, if you make the hop to Mrs. Bloomer’s costume, you’d be feeling fresh and inspired right now.” She inhaled loudly to mark the point, and to remind you of your corset, you suspect.
“You know my mother and father.” You argue simply.
Fern shrugs and steams forward, the feathers of her straw hat standing up like soldier’s plumes.
A seam of sunlight appears ahead. Trees in silhouette grow skinnier and skinner as you speed out of the woodland path. The Wheelwomen are pulling over for a roadside connoiter. Without thinking, you inhale so deeply that a marble-size button pops off your blouse and lands safely on your lap. No matter. Your white batiste Valerciennes, so stranglingly tight around your throat, can easily be loosened and lengthened with a new inch of breathing room. You breathe the sea air and smile up at a lighthouse perched atop a grass-whiskered and dune. The most “horsey” (as Mr. Boot would say) of the group conferred and finally signaled for the club of cyclists to follow on. What seemed like an eternal climb up the side of an ever-rising hillside ends in a charming hilltop village. Belfry at last!
(Part One of Hattie Boot does not have a Choose-Your-Own-Sordid-Adventure choice at the end of it. At the conclusion of the next installment (Sunday) you will have to make a strenuous decision).