“Another day has been spun,” sighed Emma Souster, finishing her spinning of cotton for the day.
Night and day, Emma spun thread on a spinning wheel in her home, causing calluses on her hands. Her thread made cotton frocks for the women of Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds in England. Because she was always too busy spinning for someone else, her daughter, Velvet Briar Rose Souster, wore clothes made from the scraps. Most of the time, Velvet even sewed them together herself.
“I wish I had a pretty dress for the winter Cotswolds Ballroom Dance,” she sighed. “Mother never has time to make one for me. Every year, I wear the same old tattered dress that I try to make new again.”
When Velvet was two years old, her father died of pneumonia in the winter frost. Heartbroken as could be, her mother never remarried, leaving Velvet, now 15, and her mother to fend for themselves alone.
However, her aunt lived in London, and her uncle was a wealthy banker, so Velvet often spent time on the train visiting her aunt and uncle, hardly making ends meet for herself and her mother.
“Auntie, I need a dress for the Cotswolds Ballroom Dance,” Velvet cried one afternoon in tears. “None of the boys ever ask me to dance. Mother doesn’t have the money. I can’t bear to go to the ball in rags.”
“A dress? Why, that’s quite simple,” her aunt explained. “The fanciest dress that I ever wore was the one made by magic silkworms. When I was young, we were very poor, and they spun my wedding dress.”
“Magic silkworms?” Velvet questioned. “But where do I find them? I’ve never heard of such creatures.”
“Oh, darling, the silkworms find you,” her auntie insisted, begrudgingly pulling a glass jar out of her desk drawer.
“But how will they find me?” Velvet inquired. “If they don’t know that I need a dress, they can’t find me.”
“Well, now they’ve found you,” her aunt frowned, handing Velvet the jar. “The trick is that the silkworms only make one dress for you in a lifetime, so make sure it is the dress that you really want. A fairy godmother gave them to your grandmother in her youth, and she gave them to me. I protected them all this time without anyone knowing of their powers. They also spun a wedding dress for your mother.”
“So, this is why she tries to keep spinning at her wheel,” Velvet whispered. “It reminds her of the silkworms.” Staring in awe at the worms in the jar, Velvet determined she would have a glorious dress.
“I hope I meet my husband at the ball,” she quipped. “Then, mother wouldn’t have to work so much.”
“Promise me this, that you won’t show your mother the silkworms,” her aunt warned, embittered. “You bring the silkworms back to me on your next trip to London. Your uncle wants them for safe keeping.”
“Yes, auntie,” Velvet promised. “Mother doesn’t need to know a thing about the worms.”
After a good night’s rest in London, Velvet’s aunt bundled her in a new winter jacket, bought her a morning train ticket, and sent her back to Bourton-on-the-Water with the magic worms in her knapsack.
“Good riddance!” her aunt murmured. “When I get the silkworms back, I’m never talking to her again.”
“I have the best aunt,” Velvet imagined in innocence on her journey back to the Cotswolds.
The entire train ride she pictured the magical dress that she would wear to the dance.
“Mother, I’m home,” Velvet called, running into her cottage. “I had a great time with Auntie and Uncle.”
“Fix yourself a cup of tea,” Emma told her daughter. “I’m still working for the day. Lots to do!”
With only two weeks until the winter formal dance, Velvet studied the worms in the jar with anxiety. Then, she slipped them in the hole in the floorboards of her bedroom, so her mother wouldn’t find them.
“Now, how does this work?” she asked them the next morning. “If I let you out of the jar, do you make me a dress?” The silence from the worms was deafening, and she wondered if her aunt was telling fibs.
As the night before the dance approached, she cried herself to sleep, thinking she shouldn’t attend the formal.
“Who needs a stupid dance!” Velvet cried. “I’m stuck here with mother and her endless spinning.”
The morning of the dance, she woke up looking for answers from the magic silkworms one last time. When she moved the floorboard from its position, she peered into an empty jar. The worms were gone.
“The worms are missing!” Velvet gasped. “Mother must have taken the worms. What will I do now?”
As Velvet walked into the cottage kitchen, she found her mother sitting at the spinning wheel, glowing.
“The magic silkworms visited us last night!” her mother exuded with joy. “They made each of us a glorious dress. My sister told me that the silkworms only made one dress for a woman in a lifetime. She lied.”
Velvet couldn’t bear to tell her mother the truth. The silkworms clearly brought her aunt and uncle their extravagant wealth, allowing her uncle’s banking to be established with ease while her mother suffered.
“Maybe Auntie slipped them into my knapsack without me knowing,” Velvet fibbed, looking at the winter-white silk gowns made for both her and her mother. The gowns had elegant touches of red, blue, and green.
That evening at the Cotswolds Ballroom Dance, a kind gentleman asked Velvet to dance a minuet. Although she somewhat fumbled through the dance, she took her steps to the rhythm of the music.
“Could I come calling next Sunday afternoon?” the young man asked her, holding her hand.
“I would like that very much,” Velvet agreed, beaming in her silk gown and pinned curls.
Meanwhile, Emma circled around the punch bowl, until a proper gentleman in a suit asked her to dance.
“Would you do me the honor?” the gentleman proposed, ushering her to the dance floor in a moment’s notice. Emma blushed and nodded, whisking herself off into a minuet, which she hadn’t danced in years.
The next few weeks were the most exciting of Velvet’s life with a new full wardrobe spun from silk for her and her mother. As he promised, Velvet’s suitor had been courting her, and she looked radiant.
In the meantime, Velvet’s mother received word that her sister’s husband had gone to jail for fraudulent business dealings.
“What’s this notice in the post?” Emma wondered, studying the letter with the disheartening news.
“Whatever became of my magic silkworms?” Velvet’s disheveled aunt demanded, busting into the cottage one afternoon unannounced when Emma was out doing errands at the market.
“The silkworms?” Velvet snapped sharply. “Oh, those silly things. I remember now, you told me that they would make me a dress. You’re clearly crazy. Mother made all these new dresses by herself.”
Before Velvet’s aunt could grab her by the hand and threaten her, her mother came back from town.
“So nice to see you, sister,” Emma announced, walking through the door with her suitor on her arm. With the handsome man by Emma’s side, the evil auntie ran from the cottage without a response.
In time, Emma never had calluses on her hands again, or her heart, and Velvet got her wish for both of them—love found its way into their lives. To this day, the magic silkworms will spin a dress for anyone looking for love.
Copyright 2020 Jennifer Waters