“That’s a nice looking young man. ” Her mother’s voice surprised her and she turned quickly and rushed past her mother into the shop. “I wonder if his parents are part of Charleston Society. ” Her mother’s words were typical; it was always about wealth and society with her. Either you were well bred or you were commoners. “Probably not,” she advised herself “since he is best man at a merchant’s wedding. I do not remember who Jeanette’s fiance said he was. Do you remember his name,” her mother asked. “No mother, I don’t” Allie said quickly, turning to look at a bolt of cloth, examining it as if she were truly interested in it for a frock.
His name was not one she would be quick to forget, but she did not want her mother to know that. She pushed Thomas Jackson to the back of her mind as she and her mother poured over bolt upon bolt of beautiful fabrics and then looked through the newest fashions in the magazines the store always laid out as soon as they came in. Allie liked to look through the fashion magazines more than she did the fabrics- some of the dresses in the magazines were simply scandalous, especially the ones in the magazines that came from Paris. Allie despised the awkward hoops and binding stays women wore, they caused her to feel smothered.
She noticed that the fashions in Paris were changing; the dresses on the mannequins swept down from an empire waist and hugged the body. Over her mother’s objection, Allie purchased the magazine and several dress patterns in that style. She was determined she wanted her new dresses made in this fashion; it would be much more comfortable. That afternoon, as she lay out what she would wear to Millie’s birthday party she rejected several just for that purpose, she would have to bind herself so tightly that she would not be able to breathe much less enjoy herself at the party.
As she looked at herself in the mirror, she thought of Thomas Jackson; she wondered what he thought of her… he must have liked what he saw… Allie thought to herself. His smile lingered in her thoughts until she went downstairs to tea. Her cousin, Eli Gullage, was his usual quirky self. He successfully pushed Thomas from her thoughts with his teasing and lively chatter. “Allie Mae Maples, when are you ever going to turn sixteen,” he asked, flicking his dark hair over his ear, as if he would hear her answer better by doing so.
In all her life, Allie had never met any man who was as meticulous about their looks as her cousin Eli was, nor had she ever known anyone that had such an aversion to bath water as Eli did either; his strong manly odor singed her nose hairs. “Eli, you know my name is not Allie Mae! ” Allie exclaimed heatedly, her green eyes flashing. “It is Alabama Claire Maples and don’t you forget it. I was named after our grandmother Clara you know. ” “You know I am only teasing, cousin,” said Eli. “I love to see your eyes flash those brilliant green daggers you throw in my direction when I do. But seriously,” he said, “when will you turn sixteen? Allie stared at Eli, who was twenty-seven years old and still unmarried. She figured his being unattached had something to do with his hygiene, but then again it could be his feminine sounding voice and prissiness that deterred his finding a match, thought Allie as she asked, “Why, Eli? Are you planning something special for my birthday? ”
“I am planning on choosing your husband for you,” he replied, his tone serious. “I think that is something I am quite capable of doing on my own,” Allie replied, almost slamming her teacup and saucer down, her feathers were sufficiently ruffled. When are you going to marry, Cousin Eli? I don’t see women beating your door down asking for you hand…” Allie gritted the words through her teeth; she was so aggravated by his teasing. Eli threw his head back and laughter rolled out loudly. It took a minute for him to gain his composer and when he did he said, “You don’t know do you dear cousin. ”
“Don’t know what! ” Allie exclaimed, frustrated because she felt that he was still teasing her somehow. Eli walked nearer and leaned toward her. “I don’t want a wife, little Allie Mae,” he whispered. “Really? Allie asked, surprised that he would say such a thing. “But, why not – I thought all men wanted to marry. ” Allie was suddenly full of questions. She had never considered such a thing- she thought everyone wanted to marry. “Not I,” said Eli, grinning at her enthusiastic questioning. “What do you want? ” “I want to be a writer, a poet like Lord Tennyson, and several others I admire. I recently read a book of poems titled ‘Leaves of Grass’ by an American named Walt Whitman… the gent published it with his portrait in the book… quite a handsome fellow.
His eyes beckon me to follow his lead and tell the world my thoughts…” “And you cannot be both a writer and a husband? ” “Oh, I suppose I could, but it is not what I want… most women do not interest me. ” “Does anyone else know you want to write- what do they think? ” “Your mother does; she encourages it. Others, like my father, choose to ignore it… Do your mother and father ever discuss things about me? ” “Not that I am aware of,” Allie replied. “I am not surprised by that… Your father despises me, so he probably only speaks ill of me. ” “Eli Gullage,” Allie chided. My father has never said anything bad about you, nor has he expressed any discord or disliking toward you,” she spoke vigorously defending her father, but she was not angry. Suddenly, her eyes lit up. “Have you written anything? ” she asked curiously. “Probably the only reason he hasn’t is because your mother won’t allow it,” Eli said fondly. “I am her favorite nephew you know. ”
“Yes, I did know that, cousin Eli. You and she grew up together,” Allie smiled, “However, you did not answer my question, Cousin. Have you written any poems? ” “Yes, I have written several,” Eli replied dryly. I just haven’t written the right one yet, one that I would want to share with the world. I admire Mister Whitman’s philosophy; his school of thought – it transcends the normal. His poetry does not rhyme. His prose is free versed and filled with human thoughts and feelings… ah, I become melancholy just thinking of it. ” “If that is what you wish to do then I wish you luck in writing the right one, soon. ” Allie said, and she meant it. “I do have one more question, Cousin Eli, if it would not bother you to answer. ” “Of course, little Cousin, ask anything you want. ”
“Why do you have such an aversion to bath water? Eli laughed before answering her question. “It isn’t so much that I have an, as you say, an aversion- actually, I bathe several times a week. I just seem to have an unusually strong scent and an aversion to wearing the perfumes that many men wear. ” “Oh, okay…” Allie did not care for most perfumes that men wore; they were too flowery smelling and gave her a slight headache; however, they were preferable to the stench of an unclean body. “It is really that bad, Cousin Allie? ” Eli asked, and from his tone, Allie wondered if she had hurt his feelings. “Yes, Cousin, I am afraid so,” she mumbled. I’ve been told that we cannot smell ourselves as others do. ”
“Do I smell bad? ” asked Allie, suddenly wondering, since she could not tell. “No Allie Mae, you do not smell bad at all. However, now that you have told me that I stink, I think should get a bath and change clothes before the party this evening. And, thank you Allie; I appreciate your straightforwardness, and your honesty. ” Eli’s tone was one of humbled respect. “Don’t ever change, little Cousin” he exclaimed as he reached and squeezed her hand. “You’re welcome, Eli, and you needn’t worry about me changing; I am who I am. ”