Image: Frederick Leighton
It was one of those strange rite of passage rituals that their father insisted on. Each daughter going to the beach to collect pebbles, storing them in the folds of their skirts all the while knowing that their success or otherwise of marriage hinged on the number they found and could carry back.
The eldest daughter collected with a purpose. To be married meant a lot to her even though she knew little of marriage or for that matter men. Apart from her father there were no men in their lives but her mother had been at her since she could remember saying it was the greatest honour to be married. She wanted to please and honour her parents so she worked diligently through the morning gathering all she could.
She was the dutiful daughter being acutely aware of her responsibilities to the family and to her sisters, for they did look up to her.
The second and third sisters were half hearted in their approach to gathering the pebbles. They knew their prospects of marriage were very slim. There was only one man on the horizon their father had selected and he was marked as being for their older sister. The second and third daughters saw themselves as being little more than old maids, left on the shelf and resigned to a life of caring for their parents as they aged. Neither looked forward to that aspect of living at all.
The youngest daughter was in no way interested in collecting pebbles. She discarded more than she collected. She was there because her father had insisted she go along and join in with her sisters.
For her there was the fishmonger’s son Athos. He was her age and like her wanting to explore both himself, his world and any woman he came across. The youngest daughter at an early age had discovered the delights of men and she and the fishmonger’s son had spent many an enjoyable afternoon exploring the ins and outs of each other.
As her mind was distracted by thoughts of a physical nature she did little to encourage her other sisters but complained the whole time asking if they had enough and could they go home. Neither did she care much for her father’s judgement as to her lackadaisical efforts, for after all Athos awaited and his pebbles were far more interesting than the dry old ones along the waterfront.