“Evelda” is middle-grade fiction aimed at 8-12-year-olds.
When their mother is taken ill, William (a boy who is happiest when wearing a dress) and his younger sister Ivy (who is always hungry for cake) are sent to stay with their strict Aunt Muriel and spoilt cousin Clover.
On Clover’s birthday she receives a beautiful dress which she is ungrateful for, and when William is caught trying it on later in the day he knows he is in trouble and runs away to his uncle’s outhouse, where Ivy is also hiding. Together they discover a secret door to a beautiful land where no girls and women are allowed with the exception of Evelda, an irrational and cruel leader.
Ivy and William are given boys clothes to wear and are taken on as apprentices at a cake shop. They attend the royal banquet and circus performance, but when Evelda discovers a girl’s handkerchief, she is suspicious and sends out a search party. Fortunately, William and Ivy return to our world in the nick of time. They are full of stories of where they have been and no one seems to believe them. Then Clover disappears. Ivy and William return to Evelda’s world to find she has been captured and it is up to them to save her and bring her home.
Clover runs her fingers across the shiny green wrapping paper. Everyone’s eyes are staring at her, except for Ivy who is gazing at the cake pictures in her cookery book again. My insides are shaking like a maraca. I had a good feel of Clover’s present earlier and I’m pretty sure from its weight and softness that it is a dress. I imagine something elaborate. Uncle Ernest and Aunt Muriel are very wealthy and they spoil Clover as if she were some fussy breed of puppy so I’m certain this dress will make the frocks Mother makes Ivy look like rags in comparison. Clover starts to pick at a knotted ribbon that is wrapped around her gift, her fishy lips are sticking out miserably and her blond bob is flicking in and out of her face as she struggles with the wrapping.
“Shall I help you?” I ask.
“I can do it myself William.” She snaps, and Aunt Muriel glares at me with her cold shark-like eyes. I sit back on the settle and endure the torture of watching Clover unwrap her gift in a painfully slow and annoying way. She faffs around with the ribbon and attempts to preserve the wrapping paper by unfolding it neatly and letting out annoying gasps each time a piece rips.
I look at Ivy’s dress. She really could do with a new one. This is her favourite, it is grey and white checked cotton, with long sleeves and a pretty hem, but it is tight around her tummy and is looking a bit too short at the back. Mother was measuring her up for a new one before she fell ill, that was a few weeks ago now and the doctor said it could be a while until she is well again so poor Ivy will have to go easy on the cakes for a while. My trousers are a bit short since my latest growth spurt but I don’t mind the hems swinging above my ankles. There is so much room around the waist I’ve had to make an extra hole in my belt.
At last, Clover pulls back the paper to reveal the dress. It is stunning. It is made from emerald green silk and has elegant little capped sleeves and tiny pink silk roses along the sweetheart neckline. Criss-crossed pink ribbons decorate the bodice, and the skirt is full-length and lined with mesh. I imagine how it will flow when I twirl in it, the cool, slippery silkiness against my bare skin. Hopefully, soon I will get to wear it. Clover is holding it against herself, admiring its length. Her eyes are cold and her expression is neutral, without a teaspoon of excitement. Honestly, if my parents had presented me with such a dress on my birthday I would be ecstatic, the happiest boy alive. I would throw myself at them, kiss them and hug them and wear the dress for days, weeks, months, until I absolutely had to take it off.
We watch Clover open her other gifts but they aren’t very interesting, well there is a pretty necklace, green glass beads to match the dress. Yes, I shall try those on too when I get the chance. I’ve seen some wonderful pointy fuchsia heels on Aunt Muriel which I believe will fit me and work well to complete the outfit; of course this will mean rummaging in her wardrobe but I shouldn’t be caught if they are all downstairs celebrating. As predicted, Clover is encouraged to take her gifts up to her bedroom for safe keeping while birthday tea is being served. It isn’t the sort of tea mother makes for Ivy or me on our birthdays: sausages, cheese sandwiches, jelly and ice cream. Clover has a proper grown up birthday tea served on posh floral china with gold edges. We drink fragrant Jasmine tea and feast on crust-less egg and cress sandwiches on brown bread, and gammon ham sandwiches on white. These are followed by homemade fruit scones with raspberry jam and clotted cream and a selection of delicate pastries and cream cakes. It is all very tasty, but my taste buds are not used to such rich flavours and neither is my stomach which is grumbling away angrily at me. Despite being used to the same foods as me, Ivy seems to cope with it all very well; I watch her force a fourth cake into her mouth. Then the lights are dimmed and the main cake is brought in. We all have to sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ Hopefully, after this is over I’ll be able to sneak off and try on that dress, I’m going to have to disappear soon anyway to use the bathroom. Clover shuts her eyes to make a wish and then blows the candles out in one long puff. Doris, the housekeeper turns the light on, and Clover lets out a horrified gasp, followed by loud sobs.
“Whatever is the matter dear?” Aunt Muriel asks.
“My cake isn’t right, it was meant to have pink rosebuds all around the edges. This cake is horrible, it’s plain and nasty and cheap!”
For a terrible moment, I worry that she is going to run up to her bedroom for the evening and I won’t get an opportunity to try the dress on until tomorrow. But fortunately, Aunt Muriel runs over and wraps her arm around Clover’s trembling shoulders.
“It has rosebuds princess, Mrs Mayhew at the bakery made it especially for you…” She glances over at the cake and gasps in horror. “Good heavens, they’ve all gone! But where could they have got too? Surely someone would’ve had to have eaten them?”
At this point, I notice Ivy’s face, her cheeks red and hot and hairline wet with sweat.
“It was you,” yells Clover waggling a long pointy finger at my sister. “No wonder you’re so fat if you can’t even walk past someone’s cake without eating all the decorations.”
Ivy’s bottom lip starts to wobble and she runs off out of the room, picking her book up from the armchair as she goes. Some seven-year-olds have a special toy they like to carry around with them, but Ivy is really attached to a cookbook. It was Mother’s but Ivy kept taking it from the shelf when she was very small, to look at in bed to help her get to sleep so Mother said she could keep it. While all the drama is happening, I manage to slip away too. I head up the grand oak staircase in the entrance hall and run to the bathroom where I empty the contents of my stomach. Then I head up the second staircase and push open the heavy door to Uncle Ernest and Aunt Muriel’s room. On entering, I am immediately hit with the pungent scent of the varnish they use to preserve all their antique furniture around the room along with the revolting stench of lavender oil. Mr Pusskins the grey Persian stares at me from the bed.
“I won’t be long,” I whisper, opening the wardrobe. There are two large square baskets lining the bottom shelf, and in them, I find an assortment of dressy shoes. The fuchsia pair are easy to spot but I am shocked to find that they are not a size five but an eight. That’s quite a big lie on my Aunt’s part. Surely if you were going to fib about your shoe size you would only go one size up or down, not three. I put my feet into them anyway, and have a go at walking around. The pointy toes feel a bit odd and I have to take tiny steps to pull them off. Next, I head to Clover’s bedroom. It looks like the room of a princess and reeks of the rose scented body lotion she is forever smearing over herself. There is a huge four poster bed in the middle of the room with lace curtains and a blue satin throw embroidered with tiny daisies. Then there is a large sash window with a marble ledge to sit on and look out at the view of fields and sheep. In the corner is a multi-story dolls house, almost as tall as the wardrobe beside it. I glance through the windows at the tiny wooden dolls in their little suits and silk dresses sitting around a long wooden table enjoying a tea party almost as elaborate as the one downstairs. There is a tiny piano, a sewing machine, and even a little oil painting set.
I open Clover’s wardrobe. Her dresses are hung in colour order and she owns one in every colour of the rainbow as well as a formal black chiffon one with a lace hem, and a lightweight white sundress printed with lilies. The red dress is cord with a white collar embroidered with a ladybird design. The orange dress is another sundress and is sleeveless with a pretty ruffled sash. The yellow dress is a tea dress with white polka dots. The cornflower blue dress is silk with long lace sleeves, the purple dress is more of a lilac colour and the fabric is printed with white swallows, and the pink dress is a pink and white checked design with a bow at the back. I would love to try out each of these at some point, but where’s the green dress? The new never worn before one is definitely my favourite.
I shut the wardrobe door with a sigh and cast my envious eyes across the room. There in front of me is Clover’s dressing table with its large oval mirror edged with a gold grape vine design. An assortment of brushes, creams, lotions and perfumes are displayed on the table, and there among them are the new glass beads. Then I spot the dress, draped over the back of a small chair. I run towards it in excitement and hug it tightly against my skin. I feel the smooth slippery fabric slide across my palms and fingers as I clench and unclench my fists. I inhale its beautiful scent. The same musty material smell that fills every fabric shop and reminds me of visiting such places with Mother and being asked to select fabrics for new outfits, Unfortunately, being a boy means that I’m usually not allowed to have the fabrics I love best, the brightly coloured chiffons and silks. For some reason boy’s clothes have to be boring colours such as brown, grey, navy, beige or khaki. I lay the dress out on the bed in front of me to admire its beauty. Then I slip out of my crisp white shirt and stiff beige trousers and take off my itchy vest. I carefully turn the dress over and unzip the back, then I wriggle into it and let it fall over my head and cuddle my body. It’s a good fit and the skirt falls all the way down to my feet. I twirl and watch as the fabric puffs out and swooshes around after me following my moves as I run up and down the room. Next I slip the glass beads over my head and look in the mirror. I knew they would match beautifully and they do. I begin to hum a tune to myself as I hop, skip and gallop around the room, incorporating the beads into my dance.
“What are you doing in my room you freak?”
The screechy voice causes me to jump suddenly and as I do so, I unknowingly tug on the necklace and the elastic snaps causing the beads to fly everywhere, some hit the dressing table and survive, while others smash into little tiny pieces. Luckily most of them have a soft landing on the carpet where they just roll around slightly.
Clover screams in horror and Aunt Muriel comes straight away.
“You wicked boy!” She shouts, “How dare you help yourself to Clover’s clothes? You should be truly ashamed of yourself. Do you know how much that necklace cost? Your poor Mother will have to pick up the bill for the damage. Are those my best shoes?”
I’m so ashamed and also terrified. I make a dash for it, straight out of the door and down the stairs. Aunt Muriel tries to grab me by the arm but I somehow wriggle free before her grasp becomes too tight.
“Running, running, keep on running,” I whisper to myself as I kick off the fuchsia heels and fly down the stairs, through the hallway and out of the door. I run around to the back of the house where there are several sheds and outbuildings. I notice that the door to one of them has been left slightly open and that’s where I choose to hide. I run inside and shut the door, and let the tears roll down my face alone in the dark.
At least I think I’m alone. As my eyes adjust and the outlines of furniture and paint pots become clear, I realise I’m in Uncle Ernest’s workshop. The floors are covered in newspaper and I spot the tail of a mouse scurry under an upturned boat in the middle of the room. I hear a faint cough, and notice a familiar figure in the corner of the room. Her head is in her lap and her limp plaits trail down her back.
“Billy, this is my hiding place,” she sobs, “Have you been sent to get me? Please don’t make me go back there, I really don’t want to see them ever again.”
“Don’t worry, neither do I. We need to run away.” I tell her.
“We can’t, mother will be so worried. Let’s just stay here while we figure out what we’re going to do.’
Ivy looks up, her eyes shine in the dark, wet with tears, but I hear her giggle.
“Billy, you’re wearing Clover’s dress?!”
“Clover’s birthday gift, the skirt puffs out when I twirl” I explain, “What do you think?”
“You’re crazy.” She giggles.
“Clover and Aunt Muriel are mad at me.”
“I guess they would be.” Ivy nods. “Do you think that trying on her dress is worse than eating her cake decorations?”
“I think we’re equal, we’ve both ruined her birthday.” I say, “But it serves her right for being such a horrible person.”
“She isn’t very nice but maybe we went too far.” Ivy replies, fiddling with the end of one of her plaits “I would be ever so sad if my birthday were ruined. It’s a shame she didn’t change into that dress, she would have looked so pretty in it.”
“Well if you ask me she was highly ungrateful.” I snap, irritated at the idea that Clover may suit the dress more than I do. “You talk of her as though she is a classic beauty when really she resembles a cod fish.”
“Oh I wouldn’t say that, she’s got lovely fair hair and she’s small and slim like a fairy. I would give anything to look like her.”
Lovely as Ivy is, she has no idea when to shut up.
“Hair and figure are all very well and good,” I say through gritted teeth, “but she has such a miserable face, and grumpy faces are never attractive.
We are quiet for a bit and I am wondering whether it is worth facing Aunt Muriel now and getting my punishment over with or waiting here and hoping that in a few hours she will be so worried about Ivy and me that she will forget to be cross.
I decide on the latter. I shall stay here with Ivy.