Sleep Pretty Darling, Do Not Cry
Ireland. 1832. The springtime.
A high-pitched voice tore through the silence in the large home.
The dainty brunette looked up from the wooden floor and sighed, brushing her hair out of her eyes and placing the scrub brush in the wooden pail.
"Yes, Marguerite?" she called back.
A lovely tall woman appeared in the double doorway. She had thick black hair, tied into a neat bun in the back of her head, and beautiful, swept-back features. She wore a dark red nightgown. A smile formed from her thin, red lips.
"Dear," she cooed. "I am your mother now."
Bridget forced an awkward smile and pushed herself up from the ground, wiping her hands dry on the apron that covered her long skirt. She said 'mother' as if it entitled her to order the girl around.
"Yes … mother?"
The woman's smile melted off her face and replaced itself with a look of indifference. "It is late. Tidy up in the kitchen, then wash your face and come upstairs to brush my hair."
Bridget nodded and picked the pail up from the ground. "Alright." She brushed past Marguerite and struggling to carry the heavy bucket of water, she fumbled through the corridor between the parlour and the kitchen. She heaved the bucket up onto the windowsill and poured the dirty water out of the window.
"Time for a bath, little birds," she murmured, as sparrows flocked to the falling water. Once empty, Bridget took the empty pail into the pantry, placing it up on a high shelf. She sighed and sat on a short wooden stool for a moment.
She had always wondered what her real mother was like. Bridget knew she wouldn't order her around so. She was a caring, brave, strong woman. That's what her father told her. Her father married Marguerite almost two months ago after a very short courtship. She quickly gained Bridget's trust and adoration. When the two were wed though, it was almost as if she traded personalities with another. She suddenly became bossy and overbearing- only when Bridget's father was away from the house.
Bridget stood again and stretched her arms over her head. She walked through the long, narrow corridor to the front door and staircase leading to the top floor. She tip-toed up the stairs and slid into her bedroom, trying to remain inconspicuous. Quickly, she changed from her work clothes into her white nightgown. She took her robe from the closet as well, slipping it on and tying it up around her waist. Even though it was spring, it was still quite chilly inside the house.
She untied her hair from the bun she had put it in earlier that day, so as to keep it clean, and ran a hairbrush through it. She examined it. It was a dark raven colour- simply the opposite of anyone else in her family. Her older brother, Brennan, had wispy blonde curls piled on top of his head, and though her father's hair was now grey, it was always a dark blonde colour. Bridget had often been told by her father that her mother had long, blonde hair, like Brennan's. She was unsure how she was born with such dark hair.
She snapped out of her reverie and quickly tied her hair in a plait, tying it at the end with a red ribbon. She slid her feet into a warm pair of slippers and left her room, shutting the heavy door behind her. She crept down the hallway and stopped at the door at the very end. She wrapped her thin hands around the doorknob, turned, and pushed forward. Inside sat Marguerite, sitting impatiently in the wooden chair by the vanity table, a scowl on her face.
"There you are, child. I was waiting." She stuck her arm out, holding the hairbrush out for Bridget.
"I'm sorry, mother," the girl replied meekly. She took the brush from the older woman and began to unpin her hair, placing the hairpins on the vanity next to an intricately carved, handheld mirror, lying face down on the vanity. The big room was very dimly lit by two candles placed next to each other on the vanity, wax dripping down the candle sticks into the candle holders below. Finally noticing the mirror, Bridget couldn't help but stare at it; it was so familiar to her. She froze.
"Well, what are you staring at?" the woman demanded, watching Bridget's reaction to the object in the vanity mirror.
The girl's glance shot up at her step mother. "N- nothing."
"It was clearly something to have grabbed your attention like that," Marguerite prodded meanly. "What is it?"
Bridget focused solely on the pins in her step mother's hair. "It's nothing, mother."
She picked up the mirror. "It's this, isn't it?" she cackled. The laugh sent a great shiver down Bridget's back. "What about it?"
"It … it's my mother's," Bridget replied quietly, running the brush through the woman's long, jet black hair.
"And what," Marguerite asked cruelly, "Do you want it back?"
The girl shrugged slightly. She did want the mirror- anything that would help to remind her of her mother. But she didn't want the mirror at the expense Marguerite wanted her to pay.
Marguerite turned toward her step daughter, traces of kindness flickering in her eyes. "Would you like the mirror, dear?"
Bridget was sure, the woman's mood swung like the pendulum of a ticking clock. Her gaze met Marguerite's, and she nodded.
"Please? It's just … I do not have anything to remind me of my mother," she pleaded.
The kindness soon pandered into scheming, and Bridget knew. She just could not bring herself to be strong again.
A familiar counterfeit smile graced the older woman's face, and she picked the mirror up in one hand, taking the hairbrush out of Bridget's hand with the other.
"Dear, why didn't you just ask for it?" She settled the brush down on the vanity.
A small smile crept through Bridget's defences. "I don't know, perhaps I should have."
"Perhaps you should." Marguerite raised an eyebrow and moved to hand the mirror to the girl. Bridget reached out to receive it, but before she could, the mirror seemed to slip from her step mother's hand and crash to the ground.
The thin hand covered her mouth at once and she let go of Bridget's hand. "Oh, darling! I am so … sorry."
Bridget immediately crouched down to the ground and picked the mirror up. A large crack ran down the centre of the glass creating a gap. Smaller pieces of glass lay strewn across the floor, their jagged edges threatening any bare feet that would pass.
"Oh, dear. It was my mistake, dear, really." Marguerite picked up her hairbrush and began to comb through the tangles on her head.
Bridget felt tears well up in her eyes as she cradled the mirror in her arms. It felt as if any memory of her mother had been shattered.
"Be a darling and sweep that mess up, please?" The request posed as a question, though it was delivered as a command.
The girl sniffed back her tears. "Yes, mother," she whispered. She placed the mirror back on the ground and stood up, walking across the room to find the small brush and dustpan. With her back turned from her step mother, Bridget wiped her eyes dry. She slinked back to the mess on the floor and slid down to the ground, sweeping the shards of glass up.
"You really should be more careful with such fragile items," Marguerite chided her. "You really are a clumsy girl."
Bridget nodded as she poured the pieces of glass into the nearly empty dustbin. She placed them back where they belonged, taking the mirror with her, clutching it tightly.
As she made her way back to brush her step mother's hair, both women heard a noise, then the bedroom door creak open.
"Ah, here are my two favourite girls!"
Bridget whirled around when she heard the man's voice. "Papa!" she grinned. She ran towards the older man and leapt into his arms, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck.
"Here's my jungle girl," he laughed, kissing the side of her head. He hugged her tightly and placed her back down on the ground. "What are you doing awake so late? Get to bed!" he laughed. "I will be there in a moment."
"Alright," Bridget smiled. "Goodnight, mother."
"Goodnight, dear," Marguerite replied, smiling wryly.
She scampered out of the bedroom and down the hall, passing Brennan's bedroom along the way.
"Goodnight!" she called to him from his doorway. The seventeen year old boy looked up from his book and smiled. He blew her a kiss.
She continued down the hallway and back into her own bedroom. She made her way over to the covered window seat to her left and sat down, gently placing the mirror in her lap. A wooden box lay next to her, the name Johanna engraved on top. Surrounding it were roses and lilies carved out of the wood. She traced the letters with her finger before removing the lid and placing it next to the box. She peeked inside and carefully lifted out a jeweled hair pin that once belonged to her mother. Coloured pieces of glass decorated it. Her father had given it to her for her eighteenth birthday, but Bridget had been scared to wear it. She didn't want to injure one of the only things she had of her mother's. She set it down on top of the box's lid, and removed the remaining objects- a leather-bound prayer book, dog-eared from use, a gold Claddagh ring, tarnished a bit from wear, and a pair of white, silk gloves that her father told her she wore at their wedding.
Bridget stole a glance at herself in the broken mirror before placing it in the box. Her father always said she was the most beautiful girl in the world, but she didn't see why. Certainly, her mother must have been.
She quickly placed the other objects back inside the box and rested it back down on the cushion as she heard footsteps coming down the hallway. She jumped onto her bed, climbing underneath the covers. Her father poked his head in her bedroom.
"Time to say goodnight," he told her.
"Papa," Bridget said, pulling the warm blankets around her, "tell me about my mother."
Papa laughed and sat down beside his dear daughter on her bed. "Your mother," he began, lifting his legs onto the bed and stretching them out in front of him, "Your mother was amazing."
"What was she like?" she asked, resting her brunette head on his chest.
He wrapped an arm around his daughter's shoulders. "She was just like you- driven and passionate. She was beautiful, like you."
"She played the harp," Bridget noted. She knew almost everything about her mother; Papa had told her everything over the past fifteen years. She still liked to hear about her, though. If she couldn't spend time with her, she could talk about her. Her harp still sat by the fireplace in the great room. Of course, now it lay covered in dust, only ever touched out of interest.
"She did," he replied. "She would sit down at her harp after suppertime and play and play. She played beautifully. She would play and you would fall asleep. Then she would take you and your brother up to bed."
"I don't remember that."
He shook his head. "I don't think you would, you were just a babe."
"Papa, do you love Marguerite?" Bridget asked, looking up at her father.
He looked back at her, confused. "Of course I do."
"But," she broke eye contact with him. "But do you love her more than you love me?"
"Never," he answered immediately. "You are my daughter, Bridget. Nothing will ever come between us."
She smiled. "Not even the faeries or the Banshee?" she joked.
"Not even the faeries or the Banshee," he reassured her, laughing. He stood up from the bed and fixed the blankets around his daughter. "I love you, darling." He placed a kiss on her forehead.
"I love you, Papa." She kissed him on the cheek and huddled underneath the blankets.
"Sweet dreams," she repeated.
He smiled, picking up the candle from the table by Bridget's bed and left her bedroom, shutting the door behind him.
"Armande!" Bridget heard Marguerite's unmistakable shrill voice from the hallway just outside her door.
Bridget knew that Marguerite was jealous of her relationship with her father- that must have been why she treated her so badly. She didn't make Brennan clean the floors and windows and treat her like a scullery maid.
She crawled out of bed and quickly stepped across her bedroom, back to the window seat. She tucked her legs under her, facing out the window. She peeked out from in between the curtains, seeing a small white cross underneath a tree behind the house.
"Goodnight, mother," she whispered. A small wooden planter rested on the windowsill, a variety of small flowers blooming from the rich soil. Bridget pulled out a peach rose and tore the petals off, holding them in her hand. She held her hand out through the window and blew the petals off of her hand, the cool breeze having them dance through the air.
"I love you."
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