The Leather Book
In the city of Lancaster, in a dark little garret, there lived a little seamstress called Peggy.
She worked from early morning til late at night; darning and patching; but she was barely able to keep body and soul together.
One cold winter night she was hurrying home carrying her meagre supper;
when she spotted a cloaked and hooded figure ahead of her.
It appeared to be struggling to free itself from some restriction.
“ Could I be of assistance ? “ She asked. The figure turned and proved to be a strikingly beautiful old lady. She smiled. “ Thank you child, I've got my cloak caught on a nail and my old hands just aren't up to freeing it. “
Peggy knelt and solved the problem in seconds. “ I'm sorry that I had to tear it Mother ,”
she said quietly, “ but I can mend it for you easily if you'll come to my home. “
Within half an hour the cloak was as good as new and 2 women were sat drinking tea together.
Peggy had waved away any suggestion of payment for the mending. “ It was a favour,” she insisted gently but firmly.
Again the old lady gave her mysterious smile. “ I know more about you than you know Peggy, “ she said “ and I want to help you. “
From the folds of her cloak she took a small book bound in brown leather. “ I think I can trust you to make the wisest use of this. “
Peggy shook her head. “ You're very kind Madame, but as I can't read or write......”
But you can draw I believe ?” Her benefactress asked. Peggy nodded.
Then all you need to do is draw your picture, make a wish and it will come true. “
Barely pausing for the girl's stammered thanks she left with a swish of her cloak.
Picking up a pencil, Peggy excitedly drew a pile of candles. Lo and behold she had the means for more light than she'd ever had before.
Giggling happily, she drew some pieces of cloth and when they sat on her table she began to cut out shapes to make a gown.
When it was all sewn together next day; she put it in her window. By the end of the day it had been sold to a wealthy lady.
Peggy put the money aside and wished up the cloth for 2 more gowns; these also sold for a good price.
Three more gowns and she was able to rent a little shop.
In the window when she opened were 5 fine gowns. The leather book was in a drawer until she had need again.
To her delighted surprise the Dowager Duchess of Lancaster came in .
She was looking to have a gown made for a 30 th birthday party for her son the Duke; at which she hoped he would find himself a future bride.
She had heard about Peggy's gowns from her friends; Peggy said she would be honoured to make one for the Duchess too.
As she sat drawing a pattern that evening ; she allowed herself to dream. Henry Duke of Lancaster was quite the dreamiest man in the whole county.
She imagined herself at the ball; in an exquisite gown dancing in his arms; those bright blue eyes smiling down adoringly at her.
It was the evening of The Duke of Lancaster's Birthday Ball.
Peggy with her work done for the day was sitting staring into the fire in the back room of her shop dreaming of the ball. Beautiful ladies all in bright coloured gowns, like the one she'd make for the Dowager Duchess ; and handsome men in their black frock coats and cravats.
She had only ever seen the Duke once in her life. She had a cousin who worked up at the castle; and one day she'd been visiting her after returning some mended clothes to a customer.
They'd been talking in the courtyard when across the other side the Duke had appeared, coming out from the stables and from then on she'd joined her cousin all the castle maids in having something of a crush on the man.
There was no doubt in her mind therefore that he'd be the handsomest man at the ball; and certainly the most charming.
She heaved a huge sigh. Her cousin and all the other servants would be allowed to watch tonight's festivities from the gallery above.
'All I'd ask for is just to be able to go there and watch everyone, maybe have just one dance to see what it's like,' she thought to herself.
And then she had a brainwave. The book, the old leather book !
She'd been so careful not to use it for silly things. Surely now one little treat for herself wasn't asking too much.
Before she could change her mind, she took down the book from her shelf and picked up a pencil. So what did she need ?
An invitation certainly. She drew a square with scribbles to represent the writing. Closing her eyes and wishing hard...........She felt the piece do stiff card under her fingers.
Alas she had no way of telling if the scribbles on it were real words or not.
Now for a dress. Her drawing this time was far better and she thought hard about lavender silk, decorated with tiny pearls; and a pair of those flimsy little dancing slippers in the same fabric.
She closed her eyes to wish; then her workroom mirror told her that the magic had worked.
She was dressed in the dream gown and was surrounded by the sweet smell of lavender flowers.
A final wish for a carriage to take her to the castle and she was away.
A foot man respectfully asked for her invitation . Peggy held out the card with an anxiously beating heart.......... “ Lady Margaret of Hornby, “ the foot man announced.
Peggy breathed again. She had been christened Margaret 21 years ago; and been born in the village of Hornby. She had got away with it so far.
She walked cautiously down the stairs. The ballroom was much larger than she had expected and there were far more people there.
This was no bad thing however, she could just sit and watch. No one would even notice her.
The first dance was called. Then there he was, the Duke, even more handsome than she remembered him, now dressed in his finery.
He led a very pretty girl in quite the frilliest, laciest dress she'd ever seen to the dance floor and they began to waltz.
Peggy sighed, what glorious romantic music it was
The Duke moved with all the effortless grace of a cat and his partner seemed to float in his arms like a feather. More couples moved onto the floor to join in and Peggy sat back happily to watch.
2 more dances though and she began to feel a pang of loneliness. Just one dance with one of these heavenly men was all she wanted.....please.
Her eyes had closed, but she felt him step in front of her. She looked again to see a very shiny pair of shoes; and moved her gaze up an endless stretch of legs to finally rest on the warmly smiling face of........The Duke of Lancaster.
“ Dear me. We can't have this can we ? A lovely young lady all alone at a ball, “ his voice was as breathtaking as the rest of him.
Smooth and rich it poured over her like warm honey; and oh my goodness, she hadn't realised just how tall he was, nor how blue his eyes were.
“ I'm afraid I don't know your name ,” he went on ruefully. “ I'm Margaret, Margaret Hornby Your Grace, “ she answered shyly.
Having also discovered that 'Miss Hornby' was at the ball alone, the Duke offered his services as her guardian for the evening.
She accepted the offer almost speechless with wonder at such good fortune. Then he surprised her further by asking her for the next dance, another waltz.
Peggy knew that if she died tonight, then she would be happy, for this was quite the loveliest thing ever to happen to her.
The Duke's arms were strong and sure, his hands gentle as he guided her around the floor.
After their dance he got her a glass of champagne; ( it tickled her nose and made her head feel light, but it was the most delicious drink she'd ever tasted); and found people for her to talk to.
Later he claimed another dance with her and her happiness was complete.
Then things deteriorated rapidly..........The Dowager Duchess watched her son all evening, trying to spread himself around as many ladies as possible.
Then she saw him with this Margaret Hornby; and could not rid herself of the thought that something was not right about the girl.
So she asked him to bring ' Margaret' to meet her. Peggy took the arm offered to her by the Duke with a gentle indulgent smile ; and tried not to let her terror show.
She looked quite different to the last time the Dowager had seen her; but one never knew.
This time her fear was proved totally justified. “ Is this some kind of prank young woman ? “ The formidable woman asked chillingly; while her son no longer looked quite so friendly.
“ Nnn..no Ma'am , “ Peggy stammered like a frightened rabbit cornered by a fox. For the Dowager Duchess looked ready to kill.
“ I..I just wanted to see what a ball was like, “ Peggy tried to explain, but knew that it all sounded very lame indeed. “ My name is Margaret, though I'm always known as Peggy ;
and I was born and raised in Hornby.......” Her voice trailed off. She doubted they'd believed a word of it.
“ That's as maybe, “ the Dowager remarked; “ but it doesn't alter the fact that you are no lady, just the back street seamstress who made my ball gown.”
Peggy badly wanted to explain more about what had made her come tonight.
Yet her interrogator looked at her as though she were some kind of criminal; and the Duke's eyes were suddenly like shards of ice ready to plunge into her; so with a sob of defeat she turned and fled.
Pausing only to pull of her dancing slippers at the foot of the stairs ; she ran as though fleeing for her life.
Tears pouring from her cheeks she found herself needing to walk all the way home in her work clothes; for with the end of her dream came the end of the spell.
As the weeks passed Henry Duke of Lancaster found he couldn't get Margaret/Peggy from his mind.
It wasn't as though there hadn't been plenty of more beautiful and far more suitable ladies there on the night of the ball.
He'd got on with 2 or 3 of them very well indeed; and had tried getting to know them better.
It did no good. Margaret / Peggy had something extra special about her; with which the others just couldn't compete. Why did she have to have turned out to be a seamstress ?
Peggy had tried hard to forget the ball, yet the dream of the Duke taking care of her and how it had felt to dance in his arms was so sweet.
' And a dream is all it was ever going to be.....' she thought sadly.
Henry had been talking to his valet about the matter. This good faithful servant was always open and honest with him.
“ Why not go and get to know the girl Sir ? “ He asked quietly. “ What are you afraid of ?
That you might like what you find too much ? “
That of course was the point. How could a duke be friends with a seamstress ? Not to mention the danger of falling in love with one.
Yet she would not leave his heart alone. So he finally made up his mind.
“ I'll go tomorrow to visit her. If she'll see me after how I behaved towards her in the end. “
Peggy was in her workroom, it was mid morning and she was considering stopping work for a cup of tea.
The shop bell tinkled and she groaned before calling out. “ I'll be right there.” She tidied herself and walked into the shop to find the tiny space dominated by the imposing figure of Henry Duke of Lancaster.
“ Good day to you Your Grace,” she greeted him with cool formality. He and his mother had made the divide between them crystal clear. “ How may I help you ? “
Henry noted her froideur and bent his head to acknowledge that it was well deserved.
“ Hello Margaret ,” he said and this time he was the nervous one. “ I'm afraid I behaved rather churlishly towards you at the ball. I should have given you chance to explain yourself more; and for that I'm sorry. I'm hear to listen if you'd like to tell me now. “
Peggy allowed herself the ghost of a smile and offered him tea which he accepted. Then she invited him into her back room; and she showed him the marvellous leather book.
She talked about making his mother's ball gown and how that had made her desire to see what a ball was like, perhaps to have just one dance there.
All the while over drinking hot tea and chatting, the warmth they had shared in their brief acquaintance at the ball began to seep back in.
“ Will you allow me to visit you again ? “ Henry asked tentatively; “ so we can get to know each other better.”
Now Peggy let herself smile without inhibition. “ Yes please Your Grace; I'd like that a lot.”
Henry returned her smile in a way that made her glad to already be sitting down.
“ Then you must begin to call me Henry as all my friends do.”
“ And you must call me Peggy as all my friends do,” she replied.
As he left over an hour later; they shared a hug and kissed each other's cheek. “ Same time next week then Peggy ? “ The Duke asked.
“ I look forward to that Henry,” answered the seamstress.
A year later; and Henry and Peggy had become very good friends. The Dowager Duchess knew nothing of where her son had been going to at least once a week; sometimes even more as time went on.
Another birthday came and went for the duke ; and he had realised with a jolt that the person he most wanted to spend it with wasn't there.
Time he did something about that.
He turned up at Peggy's little shop with a bolt of rose coloured silk and asked her to make a gown from it. “ I think your measurements will suffice for the lady,” he suggested impishly.
Peggy's heart fell. Of course she'd known in her heart that there would be some grand lady for him to marry one day. She just wished it didn't have to hurt so much; perhaps if they could still go on as friends..........
A week later Henry returned and his face lit up as he saw the gown. “ I'm sure your lady will look beautiful in it ,” Peggy chirped over brightly trying to stem the build up of disappointed tears.
“ I'm sure you will,” Henry said quietly and then gave her a moment for the words to register.
He was looking down at her; eyes full of warmth and gentle amusement. “ What all this is leading to is a rather graceless attempt at a proposal ,” he went on.
“ Marriage ? “ Peggy asked in astonishment. Henry nodded; “ unless you know of a respectable alternative that is .”
He found his arms full of half laughing, half crying Peggy; and he was kissing her for the first time; more deeply and passionately than he'd ever kissed anyone before.
“ Won't your mother be cross though ? “ Peggy asked; as soon as she could speak again.
Henry chuckled feeling as light and free as a bird. “ Mama will be furious,” he admitted,
“ but you leave her to me my darling. As long as I have you to love me; I don't care what anyone else thinks. “
And 3 months later they married. The Dowager Duchess had indeed been furious; but once she had run painfully into the solid brick wall of her son's love for Peggy the Seamstress enough times; she began to unbend a little; at least accepting that the marriage would go ahead whether she liked it or not.
After she had returned from honeymoon Margaret Duchess of Lancashire placed a small leather bound book in the castle vaults.
It's powers to be used only for the benefit of the people of Lancashire.
“ After all ,” she said; sliding contentedly into the loving embrace of her husband, “ I already have everything I could possibly wish for. ”