This is what the note said which Lucinda found attached to a pot of bachelor's buttons on her doorstep Sunday morning:
"My dear Miss Gibbons--oh, how I long to call you that! My dear Miss Gibbons! From the moment I laid eyes on you I have thought of nothing and no one else! You haunt me, Miss Gibbons. You do! Though how could one rightly accuse an angel of haunting anything? Forgive me, Miss Gibbons! I am not in my right mind. I'm half deranged with ardor, I'm mad with passion, I am altogether rabid with my feelings for you!"
And the note was signed: "Ardently, passionately, madly... your secret admirer."
"Dear me, if that isn't a bit rash," thought Lucinda as she picked up the little pot of periwinkle blooms and examined them carefully, "But bachelor's buttons! How on earth did he know?"
Later that day, as Lucinda sat in church wearing her best poplin and the bonnet with velvet ribbons, she couldn't help but wonder if her secret admirer was also in attendance. How could he not be? The only villager who didn't show up for mass was the irascible Felix Montgomery, that swarthy, brooding count who stayed shut away in his manor with nothing but a pack of snarling dogs and a moldy-haired stable boy for company. Lucinda had never met the count, of course, but the villagers kept her well supplied with accounts of his wretched and unseemly behavior.
"Heaven and earth! Let it not be him," thought she, as her gaze slipped from the pastor and wandered over the congregation.
What happened next nearly caused her to faint.
Tobias Pennywick, sitting two pews ahead, turned to catch Lucinda's eye. When she discouraged him with a frown, he raised a gloved hand and caressed the buttons on his overcoat, staring brazenly at the trembling girl all the while. Buttons! Tobias Pennywick? That dandy? That fop?!
But this was only the beginning of her troubles. After the service, Helmut von Oppenmeier, the travelling merchant, approached Lucinda and bowed low over her hand. "Enchanté, Fraulein," he murmured. A flash of periwinkle took Lucinda's breath away. "Zis pesky handkerchief!," exclaimed the merchant, bending down to pick it off the floor and snap it with a flourish before her very nose. "I give it one more chance, yes?," he said, tucking the offending cloth back into his pocket. Lucinda felt the room spin. Periwinkle? von Oppenmeier? Was this the clever use of code?!
Even the geriatric Mr. Barnswallow leered at Lucinda and joked about what he wouldn't do if he weren't an old bachelor set in his ways! Bachelor? Mr. Barnswallow?! And this from a man with wooden teeth!
The poor girl drew herself up to full height and exclaimed, "I beg your pardon, Mr. Barnswallow!"
And with that Lucinda rushed out of the church, ribbons aflutter. Across the square she ran, past the chocolaterie, the dressmaker's shop, the blacksmith. Down the lane, over the moor she hurried, her cheeks flushed, her eyes dark like gathering clouds. Finally she came to a halt, bodice heaving, at the gate of an impressive if somewhat dilapidated manor. Montgomery Manor. A mastiff stood in the courtyard, a huge beast with ropes of drool and a low, menacing growl.
Lucinda flung open the gate and gave the dog such a look that it turned and trotted off to the nethermost regions of the property. She watched the animal retreat, feeling invigorated, powerful!, then spun around and found herself within six inches of that so called count, Felix Montgomery.
Much better looking than the villagers gave him credit for!, was Lucinda's first impression.
"Miss Gibbons," said the count, eyeing her from beneath a pair of shaggy brows.
"Mr. Montgomery," she gave a little curtsy, lips slightly parted. Was it her imagination or did he suddenly drain of color? They gazed at one another indefinitely, and Lucinda was horrified to realize she had brought herself to this moment without the slightest clue as to how she should proceed!
"W-won't you come inside?," he finally stammered, "Nanny Pincushion will gladly make you a piping hot cup of tea."
"Nanny Pincushion?! I didn't know you kept a nanny," said Lucinda stupidly, all too aware of the manly, well-shaped hand that was guiding her arm.
"Ah, yes, I suppose it is rather odd, but she is the nanny of my childhood and as capable and faithful a servant as you ever did see!," chuckled the count.
Nowhere near as odd as the stories the villagers had told her. Where was this irascible behavior she'd heard so much about?!
But the real reason for her curiousity was satisfied and then some when, just as they reached the doorstep, Lucinda's attention was drawn to a flash of color, a particular blue, and she paused to observe a well tended bed of cornflowers in the garden beyond the hedge!
Oh, dear reader, has it come to this?! Our fourth and final Tollipop Hundred Dresses giveaway?! I'm delighted you have returned to try your luck again. I know how giveaways have a knack for leaving one jaded and world weary, bitter and stripped of hope...after this we will take a little break so you may renew your faith in humanity once more. Giveaways. Why do they toy with me so? I'm still recovering from my most recent attempt to win one of Dana's quilts.
At any rate, please do leave a comment! Please do invite a friend! If you would like to mention this giveaway on your blog, you are more than welcome to borrow an image from this post. And there is incentive for doing so! Because if the winner of this giveaway is directed to Tollipop via you or your blog, then you shall receive something delightful as well. No, not a quilt, per se, but a Tollipop print of your choice! Doesn't that sound like fun?!
Dear me, I almost forgot to mention the grand prize (though most of you know it already). The winner will receive one of each existing Tollipop Hundred Dresses prints (there are seven!) plus a copy of the wonderful story that inspired this project, The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.
Regarding comments--if you would like to speculate as to the direction of this story, I'd love to hear your ideas. If you would like to tell me what you plan to eat the most of at Thanksgiving, I'm all ears. And if you would simply prefer to say hello, then do it you must!
Because of the busy nature of this Thanksgiving season, I will leave the contest open until the following Wednesday, December 3rd. I plan on taking a little break from Tollipop in the meantime, dear reader, so until then I wish you the loveliest of holidays here in the United States, and many warm and delightful moments with family and friends wherever you may be. Thank you so much for stopping by!