Landsdowne Square – Part Two. Adult Fiction.

Part Two
Miss Magdalena Baroche

The orders for petticoats and frocks have been coming in swiftly these past few weeks with Miss Clementine’s wedding dress being at the top of my list, her wedding being two weeks away, the date officially being set for the first of February. I am sitting afront of my sewing machine in my bedroom, which is at the front of my parents house; I look at my timepiece and it says that it is ten minutes to twelve, so I should expect to see Miss Helen appear in my garden at any moment. Mr Matthias was jolly well pleased that I am to take Miss Helen under my wing. If I could have an apprentice, one who has an eye for detail and a prowess with the sewing machine and needle and thread on their own, well, that would help me quite a lot with all of these orders. The problem with living in Landsdowne Square is that everyone knows me – I have lived here for eighteen years since the day I was born – and every woman who wants a dress made knocks on my door, and there I am, measuring them up, and there I am, sewing their desires, and there I am, a one-woman show, working until four in the morning, with very little sleep, fitting in the finishing touches to debutante dresses, and wedding dresses, and confirmation dresses, and baptismal dresses for boys and girls mind, and for party dresses of all kinds of styles. How I sometimes wish I did not live in a square, but in a street that has two openings, for people to come and for people to go, and not for people to stay. At present, I am very fond of Miss Clementine for she is thee most loveliest friend I have ever but had, in face, in appearance and in demeanour, and her heart is made of sunshine and sweet apples, and her character is so pure and inviting, that it truly is no surprise that Mr Matthias snatched her up right away, claiming her to him. How blessed and divine I feel to be making her dress for her wedding day, and to now be part of a coterie of women in the square who have bonded all the more for her presence. I feel I know so much more about Miss Hilary and Miss Lily now that I have spent some time with them, and of Miss Charlotte too, who was always an introvert, but became a complete recluse after her mother’s passing, only ever seen by I or anyone else in the square on her way to the nursery and on her way home again. Her own mother’s infertility has for all of her life, just until Miss Clementine’s arrival, rendered her companionless, for she has never had a playmate in the way of a brother or a sister and I cannot imagine what being an only child must be like for I have two older brothers and one younger sister, and both of my parents are alive and well. I do not say this to spoil Miss Charlotte’s circumstances – I merely say this to paint the backdrop to mine own. Miss Helen knocks on my bedroom door; Mama has sent her in. She says hello and then takes a seat on the vacant chair next to me by the window. We begin chatting and she tells me that since leaving school she has stayed home and has not done much else, for the post office supports her and there is no need for her to work, however her older brother Mr Matthias would like for her to be doing something productive every day and she says she has always had a liking for fashion and she would like to delve into the depths of designing and making dresses and if she could be of help to Miss Magdalena in the future, sewing dresses for all of the women in the square, then surely Mr Matthias would be proud of her and she could say that she is spending her days wisely. I say that I agree and I ask her if she has used a sewing machine before to which she says she has – that they have had lessons in school, and I say why ofcourse, for these lessons were how I learned to sew myself, I say, before I developed my interest in the craft and took it up as a full time paying job. She says now that she is no longer at school, she is no longer sewing, and does not want to forget how to use a machine. Before she leaves, we have agreed that she is to come and visit me every monday for two hours, whence we will draw, design, and pattern a dresspiece from scratch which she will then sew, under my supervision and it will be a work in progress. I tell her that she is to go to the fabric store and buy whichever fabric she desires, and she is to pay for it with her own money for I cannot afford to supply her fabric and she nods and says she understands – that she is even happy to recycle old dresses and create new styles with them and I say that yes, this too can be done, and we bid our goodbyes and she leaves, out through my bedroom door, through the front door, and down the garden path until her booted feet hit the coffee-coloured gravel and she is again walking back home from where she came. I have suffered with anxious feelings since I was but a small child, and I believe sewing has been a way for me to forget them, and live calmly and peacefully while I sew. My condition is not inherited for there is noone else in my family who is ailed with anxious feelings like I, and sometimes it has been tedious explaining these feelings to my mother who simply does not grasp how I feel. She tells me I will never marry if I do not stop these feelings, and I tell her it is not I who controls my emotions and feelings but my emotions and feelings who control me. I do not hold much hope for myself that I will marry for no man will understand my anxious feelings and it would be harsh of me to force him to understand them, when he has never experienced them himself. Of course like any other single lady-in-waiting in the square, I would very much like to have a husband, and live in mine own home, and have mine own children, and live a happy life, but I do not think marriage is my fate, for my anxious feelings have determined much of my fate already, much to mine own dismay. I can see what Miss Clementine’s fate shall be – she shall marry and have a bounty of children and live in wedded bliss, and perhaps she will stop looking after the babes in the nursery school while she minds and tends to her own, and Mr Matthias will have the post office, and this will be their income of course, like always. Perhaps I will live with Mama and Papa until I am old and feeble, like they are to surely become one day, while all my siblings have flown the nest and have built their own nests, and had their own children, and I am left to sit in my room and sew while my eyes grow cataracts and the knuckles in my hands grow arthritis, and I have only a few of my teeth left. *** I knock on Miss Clementine’s bedroom door and hand her the wedding dress, which I have draped over my arm, her boots and her undergarments. Miss Charlotte brushes past me smiling, closing the door behind her while she helps Miss Clementine into her undergarments and then wedding dress. Miss Clementine has chosen not to wear a petticoat nor a hoop underneath, however she has said she will wear ivory lace stockings. I retrieve my cup of tea from the kitchen table and return to standing in the hallway afront of Miss Clementine’s bedroom door, waiting. When Miss Charlotte opens the door and says they are ready, Miss Clementine is standing in her bedroom with her wedding dress on, her head piece in her hair and her booties on. She looks the loveliest albeit most daring and most controversial bride I have ever had the good fortune to lay mine own eyes on, and I tell her this. Miss Charlotte and Miss Clementine cackle with raucous laughter and step into the hallway, whence there is a knock on the front door, and Miss Lily and Miss Hilary let themselves in, and admire Miss Clementine as soon as they see her. Wreathes of white lilies adorn the front picket fence which was Miss Lily’s idea, and the square’s children knowing there is a bride inside number 42, have all lined up against the front picket fence waiting for their first glimpse of Miss Clementine, some of the children being the young children Miss Clementine minds. The five of us proceed through the front door and outside onto the stoney path whence the children ooh and aah over Miss Clementine, one boy saying: I can see her face!, and a little girl saying: a bride! a bride! I can see the bride! and then running off somewhere. The children are standing in front of the gate and I tell them to move aside whilst I open it. Miss Charlotte’s job is an easy one for she has not to hold any veil, for Miss Clementine did not want to be curtained off from the world, which is her personal preference and I do not hold it against her. By this time Mr Matthias and his men and family relations should already be standing in Saint Joseph’s church waiting for Miss Clementine. Our walk to Saint Joseph’s from Miss Charlotte’s house takes us only six minutes, with Miss Clementine walking at uttermost ease for she lacks excess fabric at the bottom of her wedding dress, which is always considered tradition and fashion, however, as I have stated previously, this bride today is rather controversial, and I highly anticipate the gawps and gapes she will receive in the church – some neighbours will applaud her dress sense – other’s will disown it immediately. We walk into the church in front of Miss Clementine and the organist begins to play the bridal hymn on his organ as we commence our traipse down the aisle holding our bouquets of flowers and our smiles in perfect place, trying not to slip or fall or disgrace ourselves in any way. I too was asked to be a maid to Miss Clementine; a position which I accepted gracefully, and with each step I take closer and closer toward the altar, I thank God our almighty saviour and hero, for keeping my anxiety at bay. If there was ever a day when my anxiety should not rear its ugliness, today is that said day! When I reach the altar I look to the church doorway and see Mr Phillip Everington with his arm looped inside his daughter’s arm: Miss Clementine’s. The organist takes the hymn up a gothic-dramatic notch, and Mr Phillip Everington proceeds to walk his daughter down the aisle toward her husband-to-be. After the ceremony Miss Hilary takes Mr and Mrs Matthias Clark, Mrs Heather and Mr and Mrs Phillip Everington to the entrance of the Landsdowne Square Hall building, where a feast is to be had in their honour and some waltzing around the ballroom can be done in wedding fashion. All of the square walks from Saint Joseph’s church to the Square Hall, myself walking arm in arm with Miss Charlotte, Miss Helen, her four younger sisters, and Miss Lily, our services for the day complete. When we walk into the foyer a gift table is stationed against the wall on our left, and some parcels and gifts have already been piled high there. We pass through the single wooden door in front of us to enter the ballroom where rows of white clothed tables and brass metal chairs have been arranged, and have been adorned with brass vases of flowers and greenery, everything looking ever so romantic and luscious. As we walk we see placecards decorating each space afront of every chair and we walk toward the back of the ballroom to the last table on our left where I have been seated with: Mr and Mrs Phillip Everington, their six young sons, Mrs Heather, her five young daughters, Miss Lily and Miss Hilary. There are seventeen of us on one table, eight people facing eight people, with Mr Phillip Everington sitting at the head of the table. The remaining tables have now by this stage been occupied with everyone else in the square, and there are around twenty long rectangle tables, ten on the east side of the ballroom and ten on the west side of the ballroom, with some space left in the middle of the ballroom for dancing. Miss Clementine’s six brothers sit facing Mr Matthias’s five sisters, and I think it is adorable that some of them are facing their equal in height and age. After the entrees have been served, Miss Clementine’s six eldest younger brother’s take up the hands of Mr Matthias’s sisters, leaving I to invite the youngest, the five year old, Master Thomas, to dance with myself. His parents remain seated at the table, smiling their gratitudes at me, for rescuing this young tot in his plight. Master Thomas and I try our best waltz, with it being somewhat haggled by the difference in our heights. He tells me that he is to be my suitor when he is older and I shan’t marry anyone else for I am to wait for him to be a man so that he may take my hand in marriage. I tell this to Miss Hilary and Miss Lily who adore his sense as much as I do, and we all agree he is but the cutest. It is nice I think to myself, to be able to dance the waltz without anxiety washing over me, and then again, what is there to be anxious about when dancing with a five year old boy? Mrs Clementine and Mr Matthias float past us and giggle and smile at our partnership, they leaving my periphery as quick as they had come into it. I return Master Thomas to his chair and sit down in mine own looking at the brocaded upholstery on the chair on my left and noticing a small round stain of blood on its surface. I immediately scan the gathering for Miss Lily, whence I jump out of my seat and rush to her aid immediately albeit her being completely unaware that I ought to rush to her aid in a matter of urgency. She sees the startled look on my face and inquires whatever is the matter Miss Magdalena, and I pull her by the hand and lead her out of the ballroom and into the washroom, where she soon discovers she has received her bleeds for the first time. We are followed into the washroom by Miss Hilary, who understands what I have seen, and holding her purse she pulls out of it a handful of carefully-cut bunched-up squares of cotton cloth, which she hands to Miss Lily, and tells her to place them in the middle of her undergarment only. By this stage Miss Lily is worried and scared and is crying and Miss Hilary stands in Miss Lily’s lavatory stall with her holding up her sister’s dress while the cuts of cloth are put into place. I remain beside the basin and the faucet that has running water. Miss Hilary says she will be right back and she leaves the washroom, returning a short time later with a crystal bottle of vinegar which she says the kitchen maid was nice enough to give to her, after Miss Lily’s predicament being explained and divulged to this maid, the maid nodding in understanding, and saying the very same thing happened to her when she first got her bleeds. Miss Hilary dabs some vinegar onto the back of Miss Lily’s dress so that it does not stain and will eventually wash out more easily, and I tell Miss Hilary to keep the vinegar with us until we return to our table where we ought to scrub the seat Miss Lily has been sitting on. Miss Lily is horrified that she has messed a ballroom chair and bursts into hysterical sobbing and Miss Hilary tells her not to be bothered by what has happened for it is Mother Nature’s Way and nobody in the ballroom has witnessed anything but we three, and the situation has been rectified and there is nothing left to concern ourselves with. We are to go out into the ballroom with smiles on our faces and walk back to our chairs where we will sit down in them and I, being Miss Magdalena, will secretly scrub Miss Lily’s seat whilst she perches her little buttocks on the edge so as to conceal our doings, Miss Hilary explains. We follow her plan and all goes well, nobody notices anything and Miss Lily’s small stresses are alleviated as soon as she knows her chair has come clean, and I have been able to pin a panel of the fabric in her dress to another panel of fabric on the other side of her dress, so as to cover the small stain, nobody knowing at all what has unfolded this evening amongst friends. She inquires if she is able to dance with her bleeds and Miss Hilary says as long as pains do not cripple her then she may do whatever she pleases, and she gets up and runs to a table closest to the foyer, to tell her mama that she just got her bleeds. Her mama congratulates her, tells her that it is wonderful news, and she ought to rejoin the gathering in the dancing, to push her one step closer to finding a suitor. All this I know because Miss Lily bounds back to our table with a grin on her face, like telling her mama of her bleeds has somehow liberated her and has relieved her of all of her ails and woes. She goes on to ask me if there is anything she cannot do with her bleeds, and I say that she cannot wash in a tub and she cannot go swimming in a lake or a river, and aside from that she can do whatever she wishes. She grins again. She asks Miss Hilary how many days she will have her bleeds for to which Miss Hilary says she will have them for around seven days if she thinks of her own bleeding timeframe. Miss Lily then goes on to ask if the cotton cloths will last the entire evening, and Miss Hilary says she will have to dispose of them in two or so hours, and put new cloths in. Miss Lily grins. I look at her joy and I have no idea why she looks so happy. I tell Miss Hilary: she should save her grinning for when she is agonised in pain and scrunched up like a babe. That’ll stop her grinning and Miss Hilary says: too right it will, and Mrs Clementine sits in Master Thomas’s chair beside me, and asks us at what we are laughing. I tell her that Miss Lily just got her first bleeds, to which Mrs Clementine gasps in excitement and joy and looks at Miss Lily and says congratulations, and welcome to the RED POPPIES; Miss Lily is confused and asks Mrs Clementine whatever does she mean, and Mrs Clementine explains that she is referring to a pet name that every woman calls their bleeds so as to keep the menfolk out of the conversation. Miss Lily’s eyebrows go up to express her understanding, and then she laughs, and has a sip of her mineral water. The main course starts arriving and Mrs Clementine stands up, bidding her temporary farewells and then rushing back to her seat at the small table presiding over the whole ballroom, which seats just she and Mr Matthias. While we eat our lamb mutton with honey-glazed carrots, turnips and peas, with minted potatoes, a lot of chinking and colliding of the cutlery can be heard, and much sipping from glass crystalware is noticed. Master Thomas is having some difficulty cutting through his lamb, so I prop my cutlery on the sides of my dinnerplate, and commandeer his cutlery to cut his lamb into digestible portionable pieces. His mother mouthes a thank you across the dining table, after which I smile, pat Master Thomas’s head, and he recommences eating, all obstacles having been removed by my maternal assistance. Miss Charlotte in front of me tells me I am ever so good with the child and inquires why I never began nursery work, and I explain to her that I always adored fabric, loved the feel and the sight of it, and whilst I am very fond of children, I could not mind them every day, for then I would have no time to sew and to do that I love. She says she understands and how she does wish she grew to be consumed by a fated interest, something not as mild as having a liking for knitting or for reading. I say that they two are some more of my great loves and she says she never learned to use a sewing machine whilst she learned how to play the pianoforte and speak fluently in French. I inquire why she never became a teacher, and she explains that teaching was once upon a time, a possibility for her, however, extra schooling would have been needed after finishing school, and after her father’s death, it was something her mother would not put pennies to. So she settled for working in the nursery instead, which is a vocation that needs not a single qualification, only a maternal heart and a gazing eye. I hold up my champagne glass and announce to Miss Hilary and Miss Lily that I would like to toast to Miss Charlotte and to all women in the ballroom this evening for their maternal hearts and their gazing eyes, for without those kinds of women none of us would be here this evening. Hear, hear, they all say, and we collectively take a sip from our glasses and prop them back onto the tablecloth. Miss Lily taps her glass with her teaspoon and announces that she would like to make a toast to love and she would like to toast to the married couple who have just gotten but married, and we all say hear, hear and we down the last of our champagne together. *** Mrs Clementine has invited me over to her house for tea; Mr Matthias her new husband slept in her bedroom last evening and is still sound asleep in her room when I arrive. Miss Charlotte is having tea with a neighbour so as to give the newlyweds some space. Mrs Clementine opens her front door to me in her dressing robe, and I feel our relationship’s closeness says that her choice of attire is completely rational and sensible in my presence. I take my seat in the kitchen and Mrs Clementine props a pot of water on the hob to boil so that we have biscuits and tea. The fireplace in the kitchen is going softly, so it isn’t too cold, when kitchens with stone slated floors normally are. Mrs Clementine wears house slippers and a sleeping bonnet. Her wedding gifts sit on one half of the dining table, untouched and unopened, about which Mrs Clementine inquires will I please stay for the opening of the gifts, to which I say of course, I would love to witness the generosity of the residents in the square. When the water has boiled, Mrs Clementine blows out the flame, covers her right hand in a teacloth, and pours the boiled water into two teacups: one for I, and one for she. We drink peppermint tea, and allow the hot steam to warm up our morning faces for it is only 10am. She tells me Matthias has decided that they will live above the post office, the building will have to be renovated and rather soon. She says: he says he will get onto renovating the place straight away once the bank approves him taking out the large sum of money it will cost to build a second storey. She goes on to say that Miss Charlotte says they can both live in Mrs Clementine’s room until the renovations are complete for the more people in the house the merrier it ought to be. Mrs Clementine says Miss Charlotte is glad for the company anyhow, but it won’t be for very long. According to Matthias, Mrs Clementine says, adding the second storey to the post office will only take two months, if he uses a builder that is in town. His fees are much higher than the fees of the builders around the square but Matthias says it will be worth it in the long-run. We should be able to have a bedroom, a kitchen, a washroom, and a small room for the baby if there ever is one, she says. I tell her I am pleased to hear her good news and she will be wanting to have her own place now that she is married and entirely up to no good, after which she laughs and says, well yes, she is still figuring out whether it is good or bad. After that, I laugh. I then inquire if such a small space above the tiny post office would become too stuffy for her, and she explains, that if it does, they can buy a house, and Matthias can sell the post office. I inquire why he would need to sell it, and she explains that he would still be supporting his mother financially and she, and paying off the mortgage every month would see him end up in financial ruin, and it is a risk he does not want to expose himself to, and I say that it makes perfect logical reasoning. We place our teacups back in their saucers and Mrs Clementine drags across the table a few parcels for our inspection. When they are all unwrapped, before our eyes we see: cutlery sets, dinnerplates, teacups and saucers, boiling pots, stewing pots, a few bonnets for Mrs Clementine, some fountain pens and wells of ink for Mr Matthias, writing kits, candles, bars of soap, towels, some blankets, some wooden spoons, some teaspoons, some milk jugs and some sugar bowls, some salt grinders, a pestal and mortar, an apron, perfume for Mrs Clementine, lip and cheek rouge for Mrs Clementine, which we say is from Miss Lily, a small stool, some pillowcases, a bedside lamp, a book about marriage, some bedsheets, a breakfast tray for when in bed, a crystal glass Venetian vase, scrubbing brushes, hair pomade and shampoo for Mrs Clementine and a razor for Mr Matthias, a bottle for storing liquids and mostly milk in, an empty glass jar for storing jam in, a clock, and a small stamper with its own wooden handle, which is my favourite gift of all because it says: Mr and Mrs Matthias Clark. Mrs Clementine thinks the stamp really adorable as well, and I say Mr Matthias will like it much and it will be used much in the post office I am sure, and she says to me, please do call him Matthias, for you are family now, and I oblige her and say all right. Miss Charlotte returns home and props her bonnet atop the kitchen counter for there is no room on the table, and she approaches the table and eyes all of the gifts. Matthias enters the kitchen and looks at all the gifts and is astonished and he asks his wife: is all of this for us, and Clementine says, yes dear, these are all of the presents from the people of the square, and then he says we should marry often Mrs Clark, and she says, yes, we should, and they both chuckle and he kisses her forehead and goes about boiling some water for some tea. Miss Charlotte says that she won’t have any tea for she just had a cup of tea at Mrs Brownwell’s house, and she goes to sit in her chair in the drawing room where she can sit in peace and it isn’t so crowded. I say I am happy to have come over for the gift-reveal however I must be off for I have many dresses to sew and many deadlines to meet, and Miss Clementine kisses my face goodbye while Mr Matthias bids me his goodbye from a distance away, and I leave 42 Landsdowne Square in high spirits. *** Master Fletcher Mason is carting Miss Helen and I into town today. I have been instructing Miss Helen on how to sew properly for nine weeks now and she has proven to be a dab hand with needle, thread and machine. She has decided she will consume herself with dressmaking like I on a full time basis, and I tell her if she is serious then we must go into town and invest in a Singer sewing machine and a mannequin for her to pin her patterns to. We hop out of the carriage, bid our goodbyes to Master Fletcher Mason, who says he will return for our collection in three hours, and then departs with the horses. Miss Helen and I have decided we shall have breakfast in the new cafe, it being a Tuesday morning, and the cafe opening at eight o’clock morning, and it now being nine thirty morning. Two waitresses take our coats and pull out our chairs for us before we sit down and are handed some menus to peruse. Since the last time I was in the cafe, some more delights have been added to the menu such as lemonade, coffee, chocolate tarts, cream tarts, baked cheesecake, mousse, lemon meringue, cucumber sandwiches, devilled eggs, rashers of bacon, and orange and poppy-seed squares. Miss Helen orders two devilled eggs with three rashers of bacon and a glass of orange juice, and I order a cucumber sandwich with a pot of coffee. Miss Helen confides in me that for her fifteenth year she received from her mother and brother some money which she has not spent yet, and this will be the money that will pay for the Singer sewing machine. I say that it is wise that her birthday money is being put toward something worth investing in, and she confesses she is very proud for not spending it on frippery. She confesses she has a penchant for bonnets with all sorts of trims and laces, and I confess, that I do as well, and that it is nothing to be ashamed of, and that we should only feel ashamed when we spend our money on a new bonnet when we know that a loved one around us needs our money more than we do, such as when I really wanted to buy a new bonnet made of navy velvet that had a navy smocked trim, with a navy silk ribbon, but my little sister needed new school shoes and mama had to put off buying them a fortnight, and so I put off buying the new bonnet from in town, and gave mama the money instead, for the new school shoes, because no child should have to go to school with their stockings showing through their shoes, and Miss Helen agrees, and confesses she does not know where she and her sisters would be in life if they did not own the post office, and she goes on to say she owes her older brother a lot for the way he has taken care of his family on behalf of their deceased father. I say that she does and that they all do, and her older brother is an absolute darling, and Mrs Clementine is very blessed to have such a man for her husband, and Miss Helen agrees, and says if she ever marries she should hope to marry someone as half as decent a chap as her brother Matthias, in character, in heart and in honesty and integrity. Then she goes on to add, she would adore it if she could marry someone like Mr Gabriel Oak in Far From the Madding Crowd, and I say: I daresay – are you reading it too? To which she says that she is reading it and that she has actually finished it, and has passed the book onto her younger sister Miss Christina for reading. She says she highly recommends it to every woman in the square, and I admit that I do as well, and I believe Miss Charlotte, Miss Clementine, Miss Hilary, and Miss Lily are all either in the process of reading it or they too have also finished the reading of it, to which Miss Helen says: oh goodie, some more women to converse on this with, to which I nod my head and say: oh yes, it is such a great narrative is it not? And Miss Helen agrees that it is. After purchasing the sewing machine and the mannequin from Tailor Brothers, in town, which Miss Helen is having delivered to Landsdowne Square to her house so that we don’t have to lug it around town with us, we walk down Hartwell street passing some boutiques, clothiers, and couturies, gazing into the enticing and appetising windows displaying dresses and frocks, and gloves and umbrellas, and hats, and bonnets, and shawls, and slippers, and boots, and petticoats. We swoon for everything we see, and declare we must sight every store along this street for we would be missing out on a pivotal life-experience if we left for Landsdowne Square in horsecart and did not bask in all of the glories Hartwell Street had to offer. We enter a clothier called Saphine Berello who is an Italian designer and we admire her pieces. There are mannequins modelling frocks and dresses everywhere, frocks that can be ordered once our measurements have been taken. We in Landsdowne Square could never afford to order a dress or a frock from Saphine Berello, all of the women in the square having their dresses and frocks made by Mr Winston, the only clothier in the square, for a sixth of the fee the clothiers in town would charge. Not because Mr Winston is a poor dressmaker, not because he cannot design, but merely because he does not use the most expensive silks and satins, nor does he dress his mannequins in styles and fabrics which are unattainable by those of us who are not wealthy and who do not come from aristocracy, for none of us in the square do, and this is how we have come to love and appreciate all of our neighbours, for they are a lovely bunch of humble, down to earth, caring people. As our last looksee, Miss Helen and I walk into a couturier who looks less expensive and we admire the cuffs and the sleeves on a dress when we are approached by a familiar voice that says good morning Miss Helen and Miss Magdalena. We turn around and behind us standing is Mr Gregory Picton himself, who we have not seen since Miss Bessie’s wedding and rumour would have it that he put his belongings in a case and moved out of the square altogether, although we had no idea to where. We reply with our good mornings and I begin by inquiring whether he is looking for a dress for someone and he says that he most certainly is not for he owns this store and he wishes to know what we think of his store and whether his dresses are to our taste, and I say that the dresses are beautiful, and I don’t dare ask who sews them for that would be very impertinent of me, so instead I say, the work in the cuffs is exquisite and the stitching in the collar is of the purest quality, and a broad smile spreads itself across his prickled face, and he blossoms with excitement and begins by stating that he would love to tour us about the store personally and show us all of the dresses on offer, and Miss Helen says: Oh, yes, please do Sir, to which he says, please follow me, and we follow him about the store, admiring this dress and admiring that dress, and saying ooh and aah here and squealing when we come across a most gorgeous piece, when Mr Gregory will say I am so pleased my seamstress’s work has delighted you so. Miss Helen inquires if he measures women himself, and he says oh no, no, Miss Katherine does this, and although Miss Katherine isn’t in our presence right now, we know that if we were serious about having our numbers taken and a dress ordered we would see her, and we would then know who his seamstress is. Tis very easy for a gentleman to own a store however behind closed doors it is the woman who does all of the work, and unfortunately, in fashion, it is the men who get all of the recognition for the dresspieces, and they haven’t a clue how to thread a needle mind. We head toward the front of the store readying ourselves for our departure whence Mr Gregory inquires how everybody in the square is albeit receiving word from his father every now and then, and we say that everyone is most well and in very excellent of health, that Miss Bessie is now expecting, and Mr and Mrs Matthias are now wedded of course, and their matrimony was a most joyous occasion, and they have built a second storey above the post office, so that they may live there, and since her before mentioned wedding Mrs Clementine has left the nursery, and has been replaced by Miss Helen’s younger sister Miss Christina who has recently just left school. Miss Charlotte is very happy to have her, and not too dismal with Mrs Clementine’s absence for Mrs Clementine still resides in her house of course, just until she and Mr Matthias can move into the post office. Mr Gregory says: ah, much has happened in my absence and, I remark, that quite, it has, and he inquires what brings us into town, and I explain that Miss Helen has taken to being my apprentice, and she purchased her first sewing machine today. Mr Gregory says this is wonderful news, and that yes, of course, he had entirely forgotten of my good dress making reputation within the square, and for this he apologises. He believes his forgetting of my good name has been simply because all of the couturies in London have swamped his mind and life in the square has taken second place, and once again he apologises, and to this I say that he has nothing to be sorry for, and that life goes on, and with it so do memories, and we entirely understand this, don’t we Miss Helen? And Miss Helen nods and says of course we do, and we bid Mr Gregory our goodbyes before leaving his store and hopping into the carriage that Master Fletcher Mason is waiting in a little ways down Hartwell Street. We arrive in the square with Miss Helen hopping out of the carriage outside her house and we bidding our goodbyes, Master Fletcher Mason taking me to the post office, where I hop out of the carriage there and walk inside the post office. Mr Matthias is behind the counter serving Mrs Brownwell, who is posting a letter to her sister, and I wait my turn before she turns around, says good day to me, and leaves the post office. Mr Matthias says he knows precisely what brings me here for he knows I am not wanting to post any letters, and I say that quite right, I am not here wanting to post any letters, and smiling, he says: Mrs Clementine is in the back, and he swings the wooden counter gate upward and allows me passage through to the backroom where Mrs Clementine is sitting beside a small fireplace and sewing by hand. Miss Magdalena, she shrieks, ever so happy to see me, and she jumps up, puts her sewing down in her chair and rushes to my space and embraces me tightly before pointing to the chair in front of her and telling me to take it. I say: so this is where you have been spending all of your time now that you are not in the nursery, and Mrs Clementine says that indeed, this is where she has been keeping her husband company during the lulls, and taking his lunch leaves with him, whence they have been eating in the public house, hot pots and shepherd’s pies. Mrs Clementine inquires how we went in town buying Miss Helen her first sewing machine, and I say that she has made a sound investment in a Singer, which will be delivered, and Mrs Clementine says that is good news, and Matthias will be more than happy to pay for the delivery, and I say Miss Helen will be happy for that, and we both laugh. She inquires how Miss Helen is progressing, and I say that Miss Helen is making excellent progress, that in six or seven months she will be of great assistance to me when the dress orders prove too much for one pair of hands, mine own, and that she has a knack with needle and thread anyway, and an enviable amount of patience with hand-sewing, which I add, is what is highly regarded in this industry anyhow, and Mrs Clementine agrees, and says, yes, it is, and that she wishes she had more patience when it comes to hand-sewing, for she tires easily, and she abandons her sewing more often than she sews it, and to that we laugh. I inquire when the renovation upstairs will be finished and Mrs Clementine discards her sewing onto a sidetable, jumps up and announces: why, it is nearly so, and she asks if I would like to go upstairs with her and see it and I say that I would like that, and I leave my felt purse on my chair, and go upstairs with Mrs Clementine to have a looksee at what will shortly be her new home. When we reach the landing I can see that all of the walls are up, they have been papered and the floors have been polished and all architraves and skirting boards have been installed, and the renovation is looking a real home, and this I say to Mrs Clementine whence she interjects: just wait until you see in here, and she opens a polished wooden door to reveal a room with a floor full of holes and open circles, with a wall with exposed pipes and plumbing and what-have-you. I say I can see where her problem lies, and she says that so can she, and they are just waiting on their basin, their faucet and their hob to be installed and then they can move in. She declares: oh, I will have running water, can you believe it? and she looks wholeheartedly and entirely pleased, and she adds that she has never had running water in her life, and I inquire where her washing room ought to be and she closes her kitchen door behind us and opens another door facing it, which is where her washroom will be, and once again I step into a room whose floor has two open-gaping holes cut into it, which she says are for a wash-basin and her bathtub, which will have its own taps and running water, and a fireplace built into the side of the brick wall. I remark that this whole renovation has been nothing short of inspiring and however did Mr Matthias afford all of this, for surely this lot would have cost him a pretty penny and Mrs Clementine inquires if I would like to know of the total sum, and I look at her pondering whether she is crazed to confide in me such information, and she reads my face and laughs and then whispers forty three pounds, and I gasp for that is a lot of money, and then she inquires whether I am to be sewing tomorrow, and I say that I am not, and she inquires whether or not I would like to accompany her into town for she has an appointment with the plumber, and she must give him a final payment, and I say that I would love to accompany her into town, and she remarks that is good news, for if she doesn’t pay the plumber she won’t be getting her kitchen or her washroom, and to that we laugh and make our way back downstairs. I sit back down in my chair, propping my felt purse in my lap, pulling off my right glove, and then my left, for my hands are starting to feel rather warm, and Mrs Clementine says tea, and I say yes please, and she pours into a teacup some boiled water from over the fireplace, and hands me a cup and saucer, which heats up my already warm hands, and I thank her. I look toward the ceiling and ponder aloud where the holes for the pipes are and Mrs Clementine laughs and says she thought the very same thing when Matthias showed her the flooring upstairs, and she explains to me that there is a small gap of about twenty centimetres between our ceiling and her flooring upstairs which is what the plumbing and the pipes will travel under to then exit their way through the brickwork and run down the side of the existing post office and into the ground to join the existing plumbing. Her explanation has me rather confused and I say as much and then state that is truly is men’s business for it is so puzzling, and Mrs Clementine agrees, and adds although with Matthias’s careful guidance she has slowly and gradually begun to understand the way houses work now. I say that they must need a sharp drill to drill through the brickwork and Mrs Clementine says that the equipment and tools they have nowadays is wonderful, but the noises and sounds that come with all of the drilling is not so wonderful, and she has often been downstairs brewing the workmen tea when she has heard the drilling and the whole post office has sounded as though it will collapse, and Matthias has consoled her, has told her not to worry, for it is all normal and the post office will not crumble for it has been made good and strong. I tell her that when Miss Helen and I were in town we just so happened to bump into Mr Gregory and Mrs Clementine starts smiling as though she knows what I am to say next, and I tell her that he owns a ladies dress store in town, and she inquires how his business is going, and I say by the looks of the dresses, it must be going well, for he did not say himself, and I inquire whether she knew that this was an idea of his while he was still in the square, and she says, that she knew about it, and that Mr Gregory even approached Matthias for business advice, to which Matthias gave him excellent advice, and she adds she is ever so glad to hear his ideas have finally developed themselves, and we are going into town tomorrow, so why do I not show her this store of his, for she would be happy to see it, and him, and the dresses on offer. I say that I would love to show her where his store is, and that I am sure Mr Gregory would only be too happy to tour another person from the square about his store. *** Mrs Clementine and I hop out of the carriage and bid a good day to Master Fletcher Mason who Mrs Clementine paid to bring us into town. We walk inside the builder’s offices and ask to see her plumber. Mr Fritzby comes to the counter, has a quick word with Mrs Hamishden who is responsible for keeping all of the accounts and Mr Fritzby tells Mrs Clementine to set a date and a time with Mrs Hamishden for the washroom and kitchen to be installed once the account has been paid. Mrs Clementine hands some money to Mrs Hamishden, Mrs Hamishden counts the money out in front of her, puts it in a metal tray and then writes Mrs Clementine receipt for her payment. The top of the receipt a stamp reads: FINAL PAYMENT RECEIVED and we say thank you to Mrs Hamishden, who tells us Mr Fritzby will be by tomorrow at nine o’clock morning to fit the kitchen hob, basin, and utilities into the house, we say thank you again, and we close the office door behind us when we leave. Mrs Clementine says: there, that was nice and easy, and I say, yes, it was, and is she ever so pleased knowing she can move into her new home tomorrow, and she says, that she is, however it will take some time carting Matthias’s bedframe and mattress there from his mother’s house, and they won’t be sleeping in their new home until the bedframe is in of course, and I say, why of course, what is a marriage without a bed? Mrs Clementine and I walk into a furniture store where Mrs Clementine is shopping for a three piece dining set – a dining table and two chairs – for the timebeing, two soft chairs for the drawing room, two footstools, two mahogany sidetables, two lamps, a small bookcase, and a rug to cover the flooring in between their bedroom and the kitchen and washroom, which is to be their drawing room area of sorts. Mrs Clementine pays for everything she has desired having in her new home, and tells the furniture storeman that she will pay him the delivery fee when the furniture has been delivered the following morning, to which he says is all right, and the furniture shall be delivered by his delivery boy at 11 o’clock morning tomorrow. We say our thank you and leave the furniture store having completed all of our errands. We walk into Mr Gregory’s dress store now called Gregory Picton’s and find him standing behind the counter; he smiles at us as we approach him and he says he believes God has brought us into town this time for no reason but to admire the dresses in his store, and I tell him that he might be correct in his assumptions, finishing on the word however, where Mrs Clementine completes my sentence and says: God has brought us into town today so that I might pay my plumber for his last works and acquire some new pieces of furniture for my new home, which I believe Miss Magdalena has already told you about, has she not? And I say that I have, and Mr Gregory says that I have, and he inquires if she found every piece she had her mind set on, and she says that she did, and he inquires when she will move into her new abode, and she says tomorrow evening, and he says: oh, so soon, and she says: soon to himself perhaps, but not to she nor her husband who have been living with Miss Charlotte for two months while the second storey has been built above the post office. And he adds why of course, and he inquires about Mr Matthias, and Mrs Clementine says he is well, and business is as strong as ever it were, and how is business in dressmaking and selling, she asks, and Mr Gregory says it is a vocation that has proven to be much simpler and easier than he ever presumed it could be, and we both say we are glad to hear this, and he averts his attention solely to me and says: Miss Magdalena, my dressmaker says she wouldn’t mind having a second pair of dress making hands to help her sew the dresses around here. We haven’t advertised a position on the window as of yet, however seeing as we have been neighbours all our lives and you are a dab hand with the machine, I thought I would extend the offer of the position to you before we advertise it formally. What do you say? Would you be happy to sew dresses here with her? I do not speak for quite some time. I have not been offered a job by anybody at anytime in my life before now and I actually do not know how to behave. Mrs Clementine is looking sternly at me, understanding my uncertainties in a heartbeat for they would be her own, and I look back at her, and then to Mr Gregory, and I say that I do not know whatever to say for I have never been offered a job before and I have simply sewn dresses for women ever since leaving school, and it is the only thing in life that I have known, and it is the only thing I am good at, and why, I would be a fool to turn down such an offer, however, my mind boggles with the particulars, for how would I get to town every day, would I catch the steam train, can a lady be expected to travel in a steam train alone every morning and every evening alone? Mr Gregory puts his hands on my shoulders and tells me to breathe, and says that I need not think nor know all of the details immediately, for he simply wants to know if I would be interested in the position, and I say I have never spent lengthy amounts of time outside the square before, and yes, I would definitely be interested in the position, however there is much to think about, and Mr Gregory chuckles, pulls a barley sugar from his pocket and offers it to me and tells me to sit down in a nearby vacant chair for a moment to gather my thoughts and some air. Mrs Clementine chuckles and pats my back, while Mr Gregory looks at me in pure amusement. Mrs Clementine then says she would like to do some inquiring on my behalf, and I say that she should, and Mr Gregory tells her to please do, and she goes on to inquire how sewing dresses for him would benefit me financially when I reap one hundred per cent of the profits from all of the dresses I sew right now. He says that this is a very good question, and that if I worked for him we would split the profits 60/40, 60% to me because I sew all the dresses and 40% to himself for he employs me, upholds the goodness and reputation of the company and pays for all of the advertising. Mrs Clementine says that I advertise to my customers by say-a-say and that is free of charge, and how would this job possibly benefit me when I have a steady and consistent bank of customers always knocking on my door? Mr Gregory compliments Mrs Clementine for her sharp thinking and her cleverness, and says that working from my home disallows me the opportunity to grow or become better than what I already am. He goes on to say, working in a company, there is room for growth and for one to work their way up. One might start off being a seamstress, but then one could be Head Seamstress, and then one could be in charge of a whole factory of seamstresses etcetera until one has grown an empire. Mrs Clementine inquires if this is his goal – to own a fashion empire, and he says that it is, and she asks if he can foresee himself controlling a factory of seamstresses, and he says that he can, and she says that I will think about the offer most carefully. We arrive back in the square where we part ways, she to the post office, and I home, the horsecart having dropped me off at my door first. Mr Gregory has given me much to think about. I find mama cooking stew over the hob and I prop my purse on the table and pull up a chair. She inquires how Mrs Clementine and I went in town and I said all was well and her payment to her plumber has been made, and they will go ahead tomorrow with installing her new kitchen and washroom, and mama asks if she is to have running water from a faucet and I say that she is and then mama says she wishes we had running water, and I say I wish the same, and then I add, perhaps we will one day, and she asks me to go on, and I say that Mr Gregory offered me a job sewing dresses for his frock store, and she says really, and I say truly, and she pulls up a chair herself and says that it’s marvellous news and I say that it is, and she asks me why I look so glum when I have just been offered my first real job, and I explain to her that while I earn one hundred percent of the profits from the dresses I sew in my bedroom, I would only earn sixty percent sewing for the store. Mama says she can see where the problem lies, and I say that I can as well, and I tell her I would not have known what to ask nor what to say to Mr Gregory had Mrs Clementine not been there, and she truly was an angel and a saving grace as she did all of my bidding for me, and mama says she does seem like a splendid young woman and that they were finally acquainted at Miss Bessie’s wedding, and I say that yes, we have become rather good chums rather quickly, and mama says, it isn’t every day I befriend a woman who will accept me with my flaws, and I agree with her. Mama then says to ask Mr Gregory if he will cover my travel expenses, and I tell her to hold on one moment while I find a bit of paper and I find my pen and ink well so that I can write her tips down, and she says good idea, and once I have found everything I need, mama goes on: and ask him if you can have one hour for lunch, and ask him if he could pay for your lunch seeing as I don’t charge you for it right now to come downstairs for it see, and tell him you’ll be sewing your name on the inside of those dresses mind, for he aint the bugger who is sewing them, it’s you who is sewing them see, and you should get the say-a-say amongst all the ladies in London, not he, and where was I, oh yes, ask him if in future there are higher prospects for you, can you become head seamstress? How many seamstresses work for him right now? I tell mama only the one, hence why he has offered me the position because the dresses she sews are in high demand, and mama says good, your dresses will be just as good, if not better, and in just as high a demand if not higher, and I suggest you tell him that also, for I never seen a dressmaker as meticulous as you my dear, and you tell him that as well, that your own mama has seen your work from when you were a young’un and you have talent my dear, you do, pure talent. I say thank you to mama and ask her when the stew will be ready for I am famished, and she says any minute now, and I say good. And then I say: mama, should I ask him all of these things in a letter, or should I take horsecart into town again to see him in person? Mama tells me I should write him a letter expressing my conditional acceptance of his offer, conditions which will need to be discussed in person, I suspect, mama says, and then adds: when one looks for a job, the proprietor views his candidates in meetings called views see, like, the proprietor views the candidates and questions them to see if they fit the bill like. I ask her if I fit the bill, and she says he must think I do if he has offered me the position without a view, and I say oh, well that is favourable then, and mama says that it is very favourable. Mama shouts for my brothers and sisters to come downstairs, and when they do they gather round the table and we all have stew together. Papa won’t arrive home from work until seven this evening so we do not wait for him. After dinner I write to Mr Gregory my letter of acceptance, pop it inside an embossed envelope and stamp a wax seal on the backside so it to be closed and unreadable by others. *** Mrs Clementine is standing behind the counter at the post office when I walk in, to give her my letter for posting. I tell her it is my letter of acceptance for Mr Gregory with a few conditions I have written on a bit of paper, and would Mrs Clementine care to skim through them? I give Mrs Clementine the small scrap of paper I had written mama’s advice on, and she reads them all saying she entirely agrees and mama is a very wise woman and she is ever so glad I consulted mama about the position, and I say that I too am glad, for I felt I was overwhelmed with a situation that I was not equipped to deal with alone, and Mrs Clementine pats my shoulder and says: never fear poppet, as long as we are friends you will never go without advice for all sorts, and I say I am glad of that and I am ever so grateful for our friendship, and I ask her where Mr Matthias is and she says that he is upstairs seeing to the workmen as they install her kitchen and her washroom, and I say oh my Lord, this is ever so exciting, and she says that it is, and we shall swap with him when he comes back down and sit and have tea in the backroom, and I say that would be splendid. Then I add, it will be even more so when you can sit and have tea in your own kitchen or your own drawing room, now that would be exciting, and she says that yes it would be, and she does not have to dream it up anymore for it will be real in about half of an hour, and I say that it will, and I might as well stand behind the counter with her for I might be in everyone else’s way if I stay standing in the shop, and she says, oh right, too right, and she swings up the wooden counter-top hastily and I duck under it before she slams it back down again onto the join of the counter itself. Mrs Brownwell is in again today posting a letter to her sister in Bath, and after her departure I say that I have noticed Mrs Brownwell writes her sister quite often and Mrs Clementine explains that it is because her sister is ill and Mrs Brownwell frets if she does not have correspondence with her, as anyone would I suppose, and I say, oh yes, of course, and I inquire how her parents and little brothers are in the country and I say, and how is Master Thomas? And Mrs Clementine says, oh Miss Magdalena, little Master Thomas says we are to be sisters-by-law for when is older he will ask for your hand in marriage, and I say really and she says really, and then we giggle and remark how adorable he truly is. I ask his age again, and she tells me he is but five. Chapter Six Four days later from Mr Gregory in Hartwell Street arrives a letter stating a day and time I should meet with him in his store so that we can sit down and discuss my conditions for my employment there, over tea. I write him back saying tea would be lovely and I look forward to conversing conditions with him. I sign it Miss Magdalena Baroche, seal it with a red wax stamp, and walk it over to the post office for posting. Mrs Clementine has been living in her new abode three days now and when I enter inside the post office Mr Matthias is behind his counter as per usual and he says good day to me. I say a good day to him and might I run up and visit my best chum, and he says please do, and I say thank you, deposit some coins into his hand for the letter, some extra, for I say I require Master Fletcher Mason to cycle it into town quite promptly for it houses a most urgent reply belonging to myself, Mr Matthias says he will see what can be done about the speed at which my letter is posted, and I say thank you very much indeed, and I walk through the back room and up the stairs on the back wall to see Mrs Clementine, my good friend. When I arrive on the second floor, she is sitting in her new soft chair, knitting, in her drawing room, which is a room, but really isn’t a room, and it really is just the space that was left over when they created a room for the bedrooms, the washroom, and the kitchen, but it has a ceiling to floor window that looks out onto the roof of the neighbours, and their chimney, which Mrs Clementine says is fine for it is nice to have a dull view than no view at all, and I say this is true, and then I say, speaking on the matter of views, this time altogether entirely different, one of an employment nature, I have received word from Mr Gregory to meet with him tomorrow midday in Hartwell street to state my conditions. Would you care to accompany me, for I ought not go alone, nor will I know how to say it when I am there without you. Mrs Clementine says she will wear her best frock and I shall wear my best frock, and we will go arm in arm into Mr Gregory’s store and knock the place down with our brilliance. I say this is just marvellous and precisely the answer I was hoping I would get from her, to which she smiles and gives an offer of tea, one that I accept, and I follow her as she leads me into her tiny little kitchen where she boils water on the hob, and we each take a chair next to the small table stationed against her kitchen wall, and chatter away. I say that it is rather a luxury to have one’s furniture arrive so swiftly, to which she says that it is, and she is ever so glad that it did arrive so quickly for without it she and her husband would have been drinking their tea and eating their dinner in bed, to which I say that isn’t such a bad thing, and she chuckles and says, nay, of course, there be worse things in life, and I say, too right, there be. I inquire if it bores her to be sitting at home all day without a scrap of bread to be picked up off the floor, or a milk bottle to be washed, and she says her time spent at home is rather lovely for she and Mr Matthias will have porridge together of a morning before he goes into the post office at nine o’clock, whence she sits and knits, crochets, and reads until twelve o’clock noon, whence Mr Matthias closes the post office for an hour, whence they might have a cooked lunch together upstairs, and then Mr Matthias will return to the post office at one o’clock afternoon, whence Mrs Clementine will knit, crochet and read until she has to start preparing dinner at five o’clock evening, and sometimes during the afternoon, she might go over to the nursery to visit Miss Charlotte, and chatter away with her on a stool, and with Miss Christina too, so that each of them might be updated on the goings-on of the other, whilst the children are minded and watched over. I inquire if Miss Charlotte has conveyed much about whether she is missed inside her home and inside the nursery, and Mrs Clementine tells me she is missed in both places by Miss Charlotte, but they have remained the closest of friends and Miss Charlotte will think about advertising for another young lass to pay her lodgings to share her home with her, however she does suffer with a few reservations, for: should this new young lass do precisely what I did myself, and get up and get married and then build her own home, whatever will Miss Charlotte then do again, but miss someone else, and to this I say, yes, loneliness is a lonely business, and I would be lonely myself had I time enough to register my loneliness, however time I do not have, for I have dress orders coming out of my ears, and I feel the offer to work inside Mr Gregory’s store has come at a very good time, however I have reservations myself, for I have never worked for someone else before, and this my mother knows, and mama tells me not to fret, but it is ever so hard not to fret with my anxious feelings by my side all the time, like. Mrs Clementine pats my hand on the table and smiles at me and says my worries ought to hush, for I have good tidings and blessed things coming my way, and I know she is right of course, for she is always right, but my anxious feelings seem to dictate every step of my way, and I tell her this. *** I admire the red velvet on the soft chair I am sitting on in the back parlour behind Mr Gregory’s store in Hartwell Street. It is the most beautiful velvet. Mr Gregory’s seamstress mans the counter whilst Mrs Clementine and I drink tea with him. She asks his permission if she might state my conditions, and he says please do so, and she begins listing my conditions, with me timidly watching on, and praying they all appear reasonable. When she is done stating them, he says it is all very reasonable and we ought not to worry ourselves, for my demands can be met most certainly. When I feel I have enough courage I inquire of him: Mr Gregory, if I will, I working monday through to friday and having washing day and the Lord’s day off, will I not tire of catching the steam train every day, and will I not tire of having Master Fletcher Mason fetch me every day, for the journey to Landsdowne Square is for half of an hour, and that is quite a lengthy journey for a lady, Sir. He mumbles a hmm, and then says that he can understandably see how the commute would concern me, and the best way forward would be to act out our plans, for I to travel to and from Hartwell Street the beforementioned ways, and if I find I am utterly exhausted after three months of doing this, then perhaps I ought to consider paying lodgings in London someplace, and I look at him in horror, for I would have never conceived such a thing, although this I do not say aloud, and I feel the heat rising in my chest to my head, and the room starts to spin, and I plant my palms onto Mr Gregory’s lace tablecloth, to steady myself, and before I know it, my navy velvet bonnet with my head has collided with the edge of the lovely tea table and I am out cold. When I come to Mrs Clementine has me propped upright with her arm, and is fanning me, and I feel that she has loosened my corset, no doubt a solution to my breathlessness, one she has witnessed many times over now. Mr Gregory returns to his parlour, seating himself opposite me once again, and declares in jest that his water system ought not to be poisoned, for then he will have no choice but to demand compensation from his water company for his ailed guests. Mrs Clementine laughs and says to null and void his troubles, for my disposition is since from birth and quite an often occurrence. He says he has heard of this condition called anxiety before however he does not understand how it works nor what brings it about, and I tell him that I do not neither, however in this instance it was his allusion to my leaving the square and coming to live in London Town, and he immediately gives his most heartfelt apology, and asks my forgiveness for his impertinence, and I say there was none unveiled in my presence, and it perhaps was not so much what he said that horrified me, but perhaps my emotions surrounding his suggestion that forced me breathless. He says that he sees, and that he is ever so sorry to hear of my ails, and if he hears of a good doctor whom specialises in this field then he will be sure to pass on his card to myself, and I say that would be much appreciated, and Mrs Clementine thanks him for the tea, and tells him we must be leaving now, and he tells me that I should not think my condition being exposed to him has jeopardised me of my employment offer, for he would not discriminate over something that cannot be helped, and I tell him that I am very glad he is a sensible and reasonable man who does not hold it against me, and he says he wishes me better health in the evening, and I say I will be well again shortly, and Mrs Clementine and I leave the back parlour, smile to his seamstress as we pass her, and depart his store altogether. *** Two days later I am having tea with Mrs Clementine, when Master Fletcher Mason presents himself on Mrs Clementine’s landing just before her kitchen door, he raps his knuckles on the wall to indicate his presence, and we turn and Mrs Clementine asks him to come forward to her. He does as he is told and says: Mrs, I have a letter for Miss Magdalena from Hartwell Street, and Mr Matthias says I has to come up the stairs to see you and to give it to her, with her being here for tea. Mrs Clementine says her thanks, kitters away in her purse for 15p, and hands it to him, enclosing his hand in hers as she does, with a loving warm smile spread across her face. He says: Thank you Mrs, and scurries back down the stairs to join Mr Matthias in the post office. Mrs Clementine presents me my letter on a silver tray which is rather formal of her, however as we are sitting opposite one another in soft chairs, it is easier for her to lean out the tray rather than lean her whole body out of her chair to give it to me, I figure. I laugh at the formality, to which she smiles and in jest, she tells me not to chide her. Even before opening my letter, I know it to be from Mr Gregory and I say as much to Mrs Clementine and she says they are her thoughts as well. I read the letter aloud: Miss Magdalena Baroche, I hope you will be overjoyed to know that I have decided to employ you as a seamstress with opportunities to grow with my company, as my company itself sees growth, alongside my current seamstress, whence the two of you will converse with one another on all matters of drawing, designing, sewing, and measuring the ladies of London, and seeing to payments and bills owed, without much ado from myself. You will be expected to purchase fabrics from the merchant at a most affordable cost, with my seamstress’s guidance of course, however affordable fabrics is something you will have an affinity with by now, I am sure. With regards to your name adorning the inside layer of the dresses, might I suggest you use a small clipping of left over fabric and sew this with your name on it, on the inside of the dresses. This way the dress itself has not been interfered with and ladies can clip it off if they wish. Will you please present yourself for your very first day at 345 Hartwell Street, Harredon, London, two days from now, at 9 o’clock morning sharp. Yours cordially, Mr Gregory Picton, Proprietor of Gregory Picton’s. *** My first few weeks working for Mr Picton have been pleasant enough. Miss Katherine, his seamstress, and the wonderful woman behind all of the wonderful frocks in his store, is English-born, widowed with no children, and was raised in the heart of London. She knows not much about the country at all and has been to more coming out balls than I have had hotpots. She is very knowledged, travelled, and well-read, having gone to finishing school and having focussed on dressmaking. She is nineteen years old, and lives in her own home that she purchased with her deceased husband when she was seventeen. He died shortly after their wedding from tuberculosis. She says that she has thrown herself into sewing ever since as she tries not to dwell on what she cannot control; a circumstance which she did not have a say in. Mr Picton is very happy with my machine work and has said that a number of women have come into his store and have spoken with him directly and have inquired who in fact this magnificent Miss Magdalena Baroche is, for they have some lady friends who have ordered frocks from his store, frocks that were sewn by myself, and they now want to order some frocks for themselves, frocks bearing my name, for they are ever so enamoured with my machine work, and they can tell a finishing school seamstress from a home-seamstress; how marvellous it is that I did not bother with finishing school then, I giggle to myself. When I arrive back in the square I am due at Number 61 Landsdowne Square, which is the post office, whose address comes after all the addresses belonging to the residences in the square because it is a commercial property. Mrs Clementine has arranged it so that instead of having guests walk through the post office of an evening, if we walk down the side lane beside the post office and stop at the door connected to the back room, and ring the bell attached to the brickwork there, then she will hear it and will be able to come downstairs to greet her guests. Which is exactly what I do, and after a short time in the dark and the cold, Mrs Clementine’s face does appear and she opens the door to let me inside, and once I am inside, she closes and locks it behind me, and welcomes me to follow her upstairs. Once upstairs we walk straight into the kitchen where a pot of soup has been boiled on the hob and some bread has been gotten into already on the table. Mrs Clementine tells me that Mr Matthias is at the public house with some of his gentlemen friends and they might be there a while, so we have the house to ourselves until his return and we may be as womanly and as delirious as we possibly wish to be in one another’s company. Mrs Clementine props a bowl of soup and a spoon and a butter knife down in front of me, and I untie my bonnet and prop it under my bottom, before putting my spoon into my soup bowl, and reaching out toward the cob of bread and breaking off a small chunk that I dip into the delicious hot soup, and then deposit into my mouth. The soup that Mrs Clementine has made is of the pea and ham variety and it is ever so tasty and delectable, and I can tell she has had the bone boiling in it all day, which is the way of it, naturally. I tell her that many ladies in London are favouring my dresses and I am but new to the city, and she tells me that sewing my name to every one of my dresses was a magnificent and wise idea and if Miss Katherine was savvy, she would follow suit, and I say: oh but she has. She has seen how women want my dresses and she knows her sewing is just as good as mine, and I can vouch that it is, of course, however before when she was sewing for Mr Picton, the dresses went completely unmarked so naturally, the ladies of London were completely left unawares about who the dressmaker was. But since my arrival in the town of London, I feel I am making a huge difference in London fashion, for none of the dressmakers in the boutique couturies have names on their dresses either, and I feel the women find it refreshing to be able to give credit where credit is due and credit to whom it ought to be given to, when it comes to the origins of the garments they are wearing. Mrs Clementine jests that she did not think me the boastful type, and I say, that I did not either, and we both laugh as I eat some more soup and bread. She then goes on to say that it won’t be long before all the couturiers in London are marking their dresses with their seamstresses names, and I say, nay, it won’t be, and having marked dresses will soon pave the way for so many budding designers out there, and she says, too right it will, for say-a-say is the quickest way to spread news and gossip, as anyone knows. She says of news and gossip, I have some news of mine own, and I say: what might that be now, and she tells me that she is expecting, with an enormous grin on her face, and my spoon falls into my soup bowl, and I start squealing. I have never been more delighted for a friend, and I tell her this. To soon have a little baby to play with – how wonderful that shall be. To soon have a little baby to dress in little clothes – how wonderful that shall be. Chapter Six I have been working for Mr Picton for nearly a year now and I am sitting at my sewing machine sewing an order for Miss Holdsworth when Miss Katherine says to me that she wonders if I might be interested in becoming her tenant and paying lodgings for the second vacant bedroom in her house two minutes from Hartwell Street seeing as my vocation is situated in Hartwell Street, and she does pity me having to catch train every morning and sit in carriage every cold night, and does it interest me? I stop winding the winder, and stop for a moment, and look at her. I say that I have become quite accustomed to travelling each morning in the train and travelling each evening in Master Fletcher Mason’s horsecart, so much so, that it hasn’t bothered me in the slightest, however I will think about her offer for if I did reside two minutes away from Mr Picton’s store, I may very well find that I have more time to do things for myself rather than for every other lady living in London. There isn’t much keeping me in the square, I think to myself, other than Mama and Papa, and of course, I do love them dearly, but they are getting on now. At noon, Miss Katherine and I take our tea break in the backroom, sitting opposite the round tea table, facing each other. She inquires if I have put any more thought toward her offer, and I say, that, actually, whilst finishing the zip on one of Miss Holdworth’s dresses, I was indeed to-ing and fro-ing with the thought of packing a suitcase and moving myself and my life officially to London, for, if it became an awful situation, then I could merely pack my things once more, and return to Landsdowne Square where my presence would be most welcome. She asks what the outcome of my ponderings will be, and I delight her by confessing that on this one occasion I shall throw all caution to the wind, and with spontaneity in my step, I will leave Landsdowne Square and most enthusiastically embark on a new living arrangement inside her home. She squeals with excitement, propping her tea cup and saucer onto the white doily in front of her, kicking her chair back from under her bottom, and jumping up and down like a school girl, however, to be fair, she was but one only two years passed. I join her in the ruckus, and this such ruckus alerts Mr Picton to some commotion, and he presents himself in the backroom rather soonish, with an astonished look on his bristled face. Miss Katherine goes on to tell him that I shall be moving to live with her and she is rejoicing at the thought she will soon have a lady companion to cook with, and sew with, and read with of an evening. Mr Picton says that he agrees, and that the news of my new living arrangements is something that I ought to celebrate, and why do I not plan to hold an arrival party, to which I say: whatever might an arrival party be? And Miss Katherine enlightens me by explaining that Londoners hold balls for all sorts nowadays, henceforth an arrival party being the event where a young woman has committed herself to living in London for quite some time, and thus needs to formally introduce herself to her community for want of friends and a social circle. I exclaim that it is a brilliant idea – and why ever did I not think of holding such a ball myself? Mr Picton offers his own private ballroom as the venue for the upcoming ball, and Miss Katherine and I eye one another quickly, both affirming that we were both unaware he even had his own private ballroom. That settles it then, Mr Picton says, leaving we ladies alone in the backroom once more, feeling giddy with the thought of another ball that will be in mine own honour. How delicious a thought, I think. So the following morning, after telling mama and papa my good news, I run upstairs to my room, and pack all of my clothes into my one and only suitcase. In a crate, I stow my books, and rolls of parchment, and canvas paintings from my youth, and their easel. Some friends of Mr Matthias oblige in being of strong assistance to me by loading my Singer sewing machine and mannequin onto the back of a horsecart, which Master Fletcher Mason chauffeurs into London, with myself as his passenger, at a fee of two shillings. We arrive at Miss Katherine’s home, where two burly men in torn blue trousers, stained white shirts and braces, each grab one of my hands and pull me down from the tray behind the horsecart, to which I give me utmost thanks. With me out of the way, one of them hops onto the back tray of the horsecart so as to steer my sewing machine off the tray, while the other man readies himself to catch it, and together they both carry the damned heavy thing over Miss Katherine’s home’s threshold, and into the second bedroom where I have agreed to live for the next twelve months. I open my purse to offer them five shillings for I have no idea whom they are, and they say that payment has been covered by a Mr Gregory Picton and they shalt not be taking any pennies from me. I express a deep gratitude for their services, and promise to call on them when it is time to be moving back to Landsdowne Square, in jest of course, and they know it. They smile, nod their thanks, and walk down Hartwell Street back to wherever they came from. Miss Katherine greets me and ushers me inside, closing her bright green front door behind us. She inquires if I would like some tea and I ask her how much time before we must start work, to which she answers that we have thirty minutes to spare before we must walk to work, which is only up the road a minute away. I say I will have some tea, and I enter her cosy drawing room where I sit down in a very soft and inviting armchair, putting my bag on the floor, and crossing my feet. A small morning fire crackles in the grate and I spend my solitude albeit a temporary one that lasts five minutes, peering about the room, concluding that Miss Katherine’s drawing room is indeed more cosy than mama and papa’s, and the absence of one million siblings who insist on prancing about the parlour like beheaded chooks ought to be the reason behind my findings alas. Miss Katherine returns with a silver tea set on a silver tray and props this onto the small tea table in front of our knees. She asks whether I take sugar and milk and I say that I do have both, and once our teas are brimming to the edge of the teacups, we sit back, relaxing, familiar and comfortable with one another. I feel at ease knowing I have bathed and dressed and all of my belongings have been stowed away in Miss Katherine’s second room, of which she confides in me, saying that all the rooms in her house have names, and do I not know it, to which I say that I most certainly do not, and will she please tell me their names. Miss Katherine’s room is called The Regal Room, mine is called The Majestic Room, and the drawing room is called The Divine Room, while the kitchen is called The Feasting Room. With this new information I can see that Miss Katherine is a creative soul – one who will not accept mediocrity when fantasy words and playful words that explode inside one’s mind are readily available, she says. Why call it a kitchen when The Feasting Room sounds so much better, she asks, and to this I agree, and say that I ought to have named my sewing machine years ago. Her sewing machine is called Mrs Couturier, which is very adorable and oh-so-befitting indeed. We finish our cups of tea, leave 300 Hartwell Street for the day, and venture toward Gregory Picton’s – our place of employment. When we get to work we hang our coats on the coat stand in the backroom, tightening our bonnets to our heads, lest they might have loosened themselves during the removal of our coats. I sit down at my machine, pop a bobble of white cotton on a spindle, pulling it through the main metal spindle on my right hand side so that my machine has something to work with, and then threading the main needle with the white cotton, pulling it through the needle quite a way, so it doesn’t decide to defy me and retreat through the hole whence it came. Satisfied the cotton is being my friend today, I stand up, kicking back my stool, and unpinning from my pinning mannequin the right sleeve belonging to Miss Dearing’s order, I take it with me back to my machine to sew it closed, and to add some lacework at the end of the sleeve so that her wrist is dressed as well. Undressed wrists and ankles are for paupers and every well-to-lady in London knows it. Women who cannot afford to buy dresses with adorned sleeves and hems sometimes purchase trims of lacework separately later on and stitch these onto their sleeves and hems later on, which is more affordable, if you don’t have the money to buy it done from the bobble. I would be one of those women had I not grown into dress making and sewing mine own dresses. During our tea break Mr Picton presents me with a fruitcake, which he says is a “welcome to London” gift from himself to myself, and shall we slice the cake and eat some with our tea, and I say that we most definitely shall, and I retrieve three small round cake plates from a cupboard above my head, and Miss Katherine goes about cutting the fruit cake into three portions, leaving a fourth rectangle belonging to no one. Mr Picton inquires if I have put any more thought toward my arriving party, to which I say that I actually have not, and with all of the traipsing about England that I have done that morning, all thoughts pertaining to parties and arriving in the borough of London formally have so far not presented themselves within my mind, as far as I, of that thought, am aware. Mr Picton smiles, and says I shall feel at liberty in approaching him at any time of the day at the deciding of a date and some thoughts on the banquet and the entertainment. I thank him, spooning a mouthful of fruitcake into my mouth, and eating my portion until there is not but a crumb left on my white china cake plate. Miss Katherine confesses that the fruitcake is indeed most lovely and decadent and wherever did Mr Picton buy such a wonderful delicate sweet from, to which Mr Picton says, he had his maid Mrs Parfrey bake it that morning using cherries that have been glazing for a month. A month! Miss Katherine and I both squeal. However has she glazed them for a month without them expiring? I ask most inquisitively. To which Mr Picton says of this he has wondered himself, and he has asked her, however, she will not confide her baking secrets to him. That evening Miss Katherine takes to The Feasting Room to prepare our dinner of pumpkin soup and rolls, while I spend some time in my room, unpacking my dresses, and finding a place for all of my old canvasses and books. There is a small book shelf near the window which I find is suitable enough and my sixty or so books just fit in it nicely. This time however I have not alphabetised the titles in the shelving as I normally would, for after work, I was left feeling rather weary and very much looking forward to my first dinner in my new home. I fold my dresses nicely so that the chest is turned upward and all collars are on full viewing, and prop them into drawers in the chest near the doorway, closing them behind me when the job is done. The bed which is big enough for two adults has a beautiful apricot cotton duvet with matching pillow slips which I just adore. It is covered in trees and birds and orchids which are my favourite flower. I mentally note that I feel I will enjoy sleeping in my new bed as well. I make my way into the kitchen where I sit down in a faded white wooden chair, de-creasing the fabric in my lap so that I may accept a lapcloth when Miss Katherine proffers me one. I take the lapcloth from her and place it in my lap, next accepting the bib, this I tuck into my collar and let it hang over my chest so that I don’t splatter soup all over my dress. I do adore the bedclothes in The Majestic Room, I say to Miss Katherine in between sips of my soup, to which she explains that she made it herself and she is ever so glad that I like it. We dine for the rest of the evening in a comfortable silence, not really feeling the need to discuss anything in any sort of depth, for we do a rather lot of talking whilst at work. She does mention that she likes having me working alongside her, for before Mr Picton employed me, she worked alone the day, and she was melancholy for not having another woman or lady friend to converse with. I say to this that I understand her feelings entirely, for when I used to sit up in my room inside mama and papa’s house sewing dress orders day in, day out, though I was occupied and my brain was kept at work, my heart was weary with the lack of conversation, and the interruptions made by my younger siblings were actually small reprieves for me. They say everything is healthy for one’s body, mind, and heart in moderation, and I must agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly. Miss Katherine and I wash our bowls and spoons afterward and retire to The Divine Room to sit by an evening’s fire, crackling away in its grate, in soft chairs with our boots off our aching feet, cross-stitching. She is stitching some birds in a tree and I am stitching a kitten playing with a pink ball of wool. Mama gave it to me as a leaving home gift. We didn’t cry when I left – I wasn’t sad. Because I know I will have better prospects in London and if I want to ever see mama and papa and the babes all I have to do is fetch Master Fletcher Mason and he will only be too happy to cart me into Landsdowne Square once more. I did see papa’s eyes looking rather glassy though – his eldest daughter leaving the nest – how wonderful and heartbreaking all at the same time. I put a hand to his whiskered face, looked into his eyes and told him I loved him before dropping a kiss on his bristled cheek. When would you like to hold your arriving party, Miss Katherine asks, and I look up from my cross stitch momentarily to say I haven’t really put much thought toward it, however if time and finance permits I should think in three weeks from now, and Miss Katherine agrees that sounds reasonable and would I like another cup of tea, to which I say that I would, and I hand her my teacup and saucer so that she may take them into The Feasting Room with her. She returns shortly afterward placing my tea in front of me, and returning to her chair, and picking up her needle and circle again. I have to attend my sister’s birthday tomorrow evening and as such will not be home to cook the dinner. Feel free to use any of the ingredients in the kitchen and whichever dishes you see fit, she says. Thank you very much, I shall, I say, sipping my tea. Where does she live, and what is her name, I ask of Miss Katherine, to which she answers that she lives in the East End and her name is Jacqueline, and she will be turning 21. Do you have any other siblings, I ask, to which Miss Katherine says, nay, but it only ever were she and her sister after their mama passed away when they were children. I am terribly sorry to hear about your mama passing, I say to Miss Katherine, who says that she too is very sad about it at times, and she was quite young when her mother passed, which is one of the unfair things about life, when a mother dies so young, leaving two young’uns behind. Did her father manage very well, I ask, to which she says that he managed quite well, as they also had a maid to cook for them, and clean the house. What was your father’s occupation Miss Katherine, I ask, to which she says he was a wagon maker and a carpenter and what a fine craftsmen he were, and times weren’t all that bad for he and the maid fell in love, and decided to marry, and she became their stepmother, and she and her papa are still alive today, she explains. Oh that’s wonderful, I exclaim – I am ever so glad that there was a happy ending for your father and the maid albeit the circumstances under which they met, I must admit, they must have been poorly and painful at the time, I say. I was eight years old and Jacqueline was ten, so we were oblivious to the possibility that papa would marry another woman ever again. Mrs Lindsay was nice enough, and love her we did, but I am not sure we will ever love her as much as we loved our mama, she says. No, quite right, you will not, I say. So that is where I will be tomorrow evening. How will you spend your evening tomorrow, Miss Magdalena? I think I will come straight home for the street merchants will have closed shop by the time we close ours, and I will make a start on the dinner straight away and perhaps come and sit down by the fire while I wait for it to be done, I say. Lovely, Miss Katherine says. The next day at the dress store passes rather quickly and though it doesn’t feel like it I get rather a lot done. After helping Miss Katherine sort out her machine, for there seems to be a miscommunication with her winder and her needle and when she winds the winder the needle does not budge, I see to a lady whom has just walked in the store. How do you do, I ask her, to which she says she is good and well, and what beautiful dresses we have in here, to which I say that we do, and I say that most modestly for half of it is mine own work, and she asks if I might be Miss Magdalena Baroche, and I say, why yes, of course that woman is I, and she asks me: will I take her measurements and make her several dresses and petticoats and I say that I will, and does she mind waiting a moment while I fetch my pins for they reside on the counter. With my small tin of pins in my hand, I lead her to the dressing room where we will have some privacy. She removes her hat and gloves and props these on a chair in the corner. I pull the curtain closed around us so that none of the other ladies or Mr Picton specifically can see her whence she is undressed. Once she has removed her bonnet, her jacket, and her dress, I help her step out of the latter, and this we drape over another chairback. I ask her to remove her boots and to stand on the small wooden stool afront of her. With the long snaking measuring tape dangled around my neck I measure her hips, her waist, her bust and her shoulders, her underarms and the length of her arms. Once I am finished measuring I ask her to wait a moment whilst I go and fetch my calico. I wrap a long sheet of very thin white calico around her figure, silhouetting her figure with my pins, starting from her underarm and going downward until I reach her ankle. When I am satisfied that my pin-work follows her silhouette closely enough, I take my dressmaking scissors from the chair and begin cutting away the excess fabric, which is all the fabric on the external side to the pin. Once the excess fabric has been but all removed, I begin unpinning the silhouette I had made, to free my customer from her fabric-prison. I wrap calico around each of her arms, pinning these as her sleeves, and remove all excess fabric outside of the pin. Once the excess fabric has been removed, I unpin my customer free from her sleeves. I pinch the flesh under her arms in a few places to get an idea of how much fabric I ought to leave for stretching room. There is nothing more uncomfortable in this world than too tight a sleeve, and not being able to move for the fabric of one’s dress might accidentally be too tight across one’s shoulders. Once Miss Karathwaite has dressed and we are out of the dressing room and back in the light shining into the store through the window, I slide across to her three separate cards of fabric, lace and colour samples that she is able to choose from. Miss Katherine made this card of samples at her old workplace, and I am very glad she remembered to bring it along with her to Gregory Picton’s. I take up some sheets of drawing paper and a leadstick and standing behind the counter whilst Miss Karathwaite faces me, ask questions about the two dresses Miss Karathwaite desires, drawing illustrations of them as we speak, and noting names of different fabrics she would like, and different colours she would like, and all the embellishments and lacework that she would like. One dress is to be long-sleeved with lace cuffs and a lace hem, with a round décolletage, and the other is to be a cropped sleeved dress with a square décolletage and a cut a little bit higher above her ankle than the other dress ought to be show as to show off her new booties she bought from Manfred’s yesterday. Miss Karathwaite being the third woman this week to mention making a purchase at Manfred’s has me mentally noting that I ought to walk in there myself during my lunch hour, to peruse the many delectable leathery delights on offer. I tell her we will keep her pattern and her measurements in the backroom on file until the next time she wishes to have a dress made. Keeping her patterns and her measurements allows us to skip the whole process of dressing and redressing, and one can just jump straight to choosing colours and styles, which is the fun part really. Miss Karathwaite agrees and nods her head and says that is a very good idea, for it really is a bother to be undressing and redressing when one needs to buy so many things in Hartwell Street and then needs to have luncheon and tea as well. I sympathise with her, and say that yes, I know wholeheartedly how bothersome it is to be doing all of that. I tell her that it will take me two weeks to make these two dresses and two petticoats, and does she mind that time frame, to which she says, not at all, and that actually sounds rather marvellous in fact. Miss Karathwaite inquires whether we be like all the other couturiers in Hartwell Street, and will we deliver her dress to her house, and then can she pay us her bill there? I answer: Of course Miss Karathwaite, naturally, and she smiles, bids me a good day, and I bid her a good day. I felt like adding: Well, Mr Picton ought to do something around here. Which he does mind; he delivers all of the dresses to his customers at their homes. A second after her departure a lovely young lass who goes by the name of Miss Nancy Fallington, approaches me at the counter, with her lady friend whom I have not been acquainted with yet, all smiles, and joy, and glee, and knowing she wants to embrace me, I step out from behind my counter, and we embrace each other, with her saying: Oh Miss Baroche, how do you do? You are looking so well, and what a fine frock you are wearing today, of course it is one of your own, I need not hazard a guess as to who made that, to which I say, ah yes, Miss Nancy, how lovely it is to see you, and yes, this be one of my creations, do you not just adore it? I ask twirling around and giving her a 360 degree view of the dress I wear at work this day. Oh, I do Miss Baroche, I do adore it, I always adore your work which is why I am in again today, and Miss Baroche, my lady friend here Miss Francesca Verelia, would too like her measurements taken for archiving for later. Of course Miss Nancy, why hello Miss Francesca, and how do you do this fine day, please do come this way. I will send you to the dressing room for undressing and pull this here this curtain closed. Prop your belongings on the chairs Miss Francesca. Do call me in when you are ready to be measured, won’t you? I say. I pull the curtain closed behind me while Miss Francesca undresses; a bonnie woman with strawberry blonde curls cascading about her face, with the cinchest waist one has ever seen, and dimples so alluring I could kiss her my very self. A little sparrow tells me you reside in our very own Hartwell Street Miss Baroche! Oh, whenever did this happen, my talented bon? Miss Nancy says, pushing her hat up a bit for it is sliding down over her face. Oh, but only yesterday, I say, adding that news does indeed travel fast in this street, to which Miss Nancy says, do I not know it? Will you be having an arriving party then? She asks me. I shall be having an arriving party, most definitely Miss Nancy, and you shall be the first guest who receives invitation by hand, I smile. Oh, Miss Baroche, well this calls for a celebration, it really does. You, an innovative and modern dressmaker living in our very own Hartwell Street, and you are to be having an arriving party too, oh, I must gather the coterie, Miss Baroche, for they all too, do love your work, and they will be thrilled when I tell them you are now one of us, she says. Will they truly? I ask. Certainly, Miss Baroche, you are much admired in these parts of London pop, she assures me. Miss Francesca announces she is ready for my aid, and I leave Miss Nancy standing by the counter to take her friend’s measurements. Another woman walks in and thankfully Miss Katherine sees to her, for I really have my hands full. Miss Nancy is flicking through the fabric samples, and calling out names to Miss Francesca through the velvet curtain, who says her decisions ought to be delayed until she can have a thorough look at the fabrics herself, and Miss Nancy tells her she won’t be disappointed for they have the finest silks and satins on offer all the way from Italy if a lady wants. As Miss Francesca would have it, she is ordering one full length gown, in a very expensive silk that I know we do not have in the backroom, and so I tell her I must order it from Italy, and its arriving here will take three weeks, and then it will take one week for it to be made, and does she mind any of this?


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