Authors: Kaye Dacus
Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Romance, #Christian Fiction, #Historical
An Honest Heart, Digital Edition
Based on Print Edition
Copyright © 2013 by Kaye Dacus
All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
Published by B&H Publishing Group
Dewey Decimal Classification: F
Subject Heading: HONESTY—FICTION \ LOVE STORIES \ INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION—FICTION
Scripture reference is taken from The King James Version.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
he Siamese silk slid sensuously through Cadence Bainbridge’s hands, catching on the rough spot on her thumb where she’d pricked it yesterday. Two of her apprentices worked silently on hemming gowns hanging from dress forms in opposite corners of the workroom, in front of the large windows where the light was the best.
Ten-year-old Nan, the youngest and newest girl to come to learn the seamstress trade from Caddy, hummed a monotone as she secured buttons down the back of a green muslin bodice. The sound crawled up Caddy’s spine to tingle under her collar at the back of her neck and tighten her shoulders until she thought she might scream.
Caddy cut into the expensive imported fabric with more trepidation than she usually experienced in cutting a new gown. She’d drawn the pattern from the fashion plate her customer brought to show her, and it was a more complex design than anything Caddy had attempted in the eight years since striking out on her own after her apprenticeship ended. The knife-pleats alone would take days to form for a skirt as full as this would be when finished.
Footfalls on the creaking stairs broke the monotonous drone of Nan’s humming. Caddy set the silk aside and rose, tucking her shears into the extra-deep pocket she’d sewn into her skirt.
“Mother, if you needed something, you should have sent Mary to fetch me.”
The frail older woman stepped down gingerly from the last riser and patted Caddy’s cheek. “Do not worry about me so. Mary is having a much-needed afternoon off.”
“What do you need? I shall get it for you.” Caddy put her arm under her mother’s elbow to provide support.
But Mother pulled away. “’Tis a lovely spring day, and I plan to avail myself of it by walking to the greengrocer to visit with Mrs. Howell for a little while.”
The greengrocer was less than fifty yards up North Parade Avenue from the seamstress shop. But Mother had not walked so far on her own in over two years.
Caddy turned to her young apprentice. “Nan, please walk with Mrs. Bainbridge. If she tires, find a place for her to sit. You can finish your work after you walk her back home.”
Nan stood and laid the bodice on the seat of her chair. “Yes, miss.” The way the child’s tongue caught between her front teeth made it come out as
Caddy raised her brows.
Nan blushed as red as her hair. “Yessssss, missssssss,” she over-enunciated.
Caddy nodded, and Mother extended her hand to the ten-year-old. They ambled from the workroom and into the storefront. Caddy’s shop clerk stepped out of the way to let them through, then entered the workroom. “The hackney is come to take you to Chawley Abbey.”
“Thank you.” Caddy closed her sewing kit and tucked it under her arm, motioning to the two remaining apprentices. “Letty, you will go with me. Alice, you stay here and help Phyllis if she needs it in the front. And mind Nan when she returns as well.”
“Yes, miss.” Both young women set into motion—Alice returning to her hemming job and Letty replacing items in her sewing kit.
Caddy checked her appearance in the long, unframed mirror mounted on the back of the stairwell door. She combed loose wisps of straight brown hair back into the soft wings covering her ears to the twisted braids at her nape. Smoothing the tatted lace collar at the high neck of her blue-and-green plaid gown, she took a deep breath and prepared herself for the unpleasantness to come.
The fifteen-year-old reached out for Caddy’s sewing kit, and she tucked both under one arm. Caddy pulled a bundle of garments wrapped in white linen from the bar where several dresses hung in a row, waiting to be finished or altered, and carried it out like a prince rescuing his maiden fair—both arms supporting the weight of the gowns and keeping her arms high enough that not even the bundling fabric touched the floor.
A blast of chill, damp air stopped Caddy in the front doorway. She’d need to return for her cloak.
“Afternoon, Miss Bainbridge.” The driver touched the front brim of his tall hat. “Back to Chawley Abbey today, are we?”
“Yes, Thomas, thank you.” Caddy carefully stepped up into the coach and draped the bundle of gowns across the backward-facing seat before climbing down again. “I will be right back.” She hurried into the store—and stopped short at the sight of Alice standing beside the button cabinet, holding her cloak. If it weren’t for her girls, sometimes Caddy wasn’t certain she’d stay in business.
She flung the cloak around her shoulders, and it billowed behind her as she rushed back out the door to the carriage.
Letty chattered incessantly the entire hour’s journey—about the young men she fancied who worked at the shops and public houses in North Parade, or lived above them; about the new hat she was trimming from the scrap bag; about her plans to open a shop of her own in London someday. Banbury Road and the increasingly fine homes marched past the coach’s narrow windows. Caddy’s gaze drew across the grand edifices of the ancient colleges and churches as the carriage took them south into Oxford proper, then through town toward the road leading to Chawley Abbey on the western outskirts of the city.
The drizzle and cold wind didn’t seem to deter any of the noise or bustle of the city center, and several times, Thomas drew the cab to a stop, yelling at someone or something blocking their passage. Caddy drew the curtain shut and leaned back in her seat, trying to block out the tiresome scene.
Letty leaned forward and would have opened the window in her door had Caddy not reminded her of the purpose of their journey with a hand on her arm and a nod toward the bundle of dresses on the opposite seat.
When they turned into a quieter lane, Letty leaned back with a sigh. “I cannot wait to visit London in May. I tingle with pleasure every time I imagine the displays of fabrics and clothing from around the world. Won’t it be delightful, Miss Bainbridge? Not only to see all of the treasures the world has to offer, but to be able to spend the day in Hyde Park in London?”
Caddy held in a shudder. She’d lived in London for a time and had been grateful to return to Oxford. “Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition should be quite educational, yes, Letty.” Caddy was going mainly because she promised her girls she would take them. But she did want to study the fashions of the ladies in London, and also learn more about fabrics that could be imported. The best part of the Great Exhibition was the increase in Caddy’s business—many local women had come to her over the past few months to have new dresses designed for their upcoming jaunts to London for the Exhibition.
She reminded herself to thank God for Miss Buchanan and Lady Carmichael. The daughter of a baronet and wife of a baron were by no means the highest-ranking ladies in Oxford society, but they recommended Caddy’s services to their friends and acquaintances—almost to the point that Caddy had more orders than she could fulfill with only three apprentices. Perhaps she should take on one more.
Letty’s flow of raptures about London and the Exhibition, as she imagined it would be, stopped only when the carriage did in front of Chawley Abbey. Though not massive, the gray-stone manor, with its crenellated roofline and tall, square central tower was imposing. Several small windows in the shapes of crosses and the high, mullioned stained glass windows bespoke its original purpose as a monastery.
A footman met them at the carriage and took the bundle of gowns while Thomas Longrieve, the cab driver Caddy used most often, offered his hand to Caddy and Letty for assistance getting out.
In the entry hall, Letty paused, as usual, to take in the soaring open tower above. Caddy hid her annoyance. She’d learned long ago not to openly show her awe of the homes she entered, lest her customers feel she was too provincial to do the job for which she was hired. And she’d tried to pass that along to her apprentices, but with varying degrees of success. “Come, Letty. No dawdling.”
With obvious reluctance, the girl dragged her gaze down from the lofty ceiling and followed Caddy and the footman upstairs toward Lady Carmichael’s dressing room. In contrast to the entryway, the rest of the abbey seemed dark and cramped—the rooms small and paneled, painted, or papered in deep, heavy hues.
A wooden staircase wound around the walls of the home’s second, smaller tower. Caddy’s right knee protested each step up. Mother had been right—she should have had the doctor look at it after she wrenched it in her spill on the icy street a few months ago.
Rounding the landing halfway between the second and third floors, irregular movement caught Caddy’s attention, and she looked up just in time to see the footman stop and flatten himself against the banister, head bowed. The way he leaned back made Caddy’s heart pound—he could so easily overset and fall to his death on the stone floor below.
“Jenkins—” But she stopped her question. Looking up past the footman, she realized why he’d stopped.
A few steps up stood a man—she could tell he was male by the shape of his shadow. He stepped down and into the sunlight streaming in through the tall, etched window in the opposite wall.
Caddy immediately bent her aching knee into a curtsy. “Mr. Carmichael. I hope we are not disturbing you.” Though why he should be coming down the servants’ stairs instead of the massive staircase in the front of the house, she couldn’t guess.
The Honorable Mr. Oliver Carmichael, Lady Carmichael’s eldest son and the future baron, raised one brow. “I do not believe I’ve had the pleasure.” He came down another step—putting him even with the footman and only two steps above Caddy.
“Cadence Bainbridge, seamstress. My apprentice, Leticia Ayers.” She looked over her shoulder at Letty, who executed a perfect curtsy.
Bainbridge, I hope.” The tone in Mr. Carmichael’s voice sent a shiver down Caddy’s spine. She’d been doing this work too long and encountered too many husbands, sons, and fathers of her customers not to recognize his meaning.
She forced a tight smile. “If you will excuse us, Mr. Carmichael, Lady Carmichael is expecting me.” She nodded at Jenkins, who seemed grateful for the escape. Caddy couldn’t blame the servant.
For a moment, Mr. Carmichael seemed to consider not moving out of the way, but at last he relented and pressed his back against the wall so Caddy and Letty could pass.
Reaching the top of the next half-flight, Caddy glanced to her left. He stood there, looking up . . . at her. He grinned, then sauntered down and out of sight below them.
In the dressing room—larger by half than Caddy’s bedroom—she unwrapped the gowns and hung them on four vacant hooks lining the walls, ignoring the lingering crawling sensation on her skin from Mr. Carmichael’s expression and tone. She adjusted the trimmings on sleeves and bodices, and Letty followed behind, fluffing out the full skirts.
A clearing throat drew their attention to the door. Dressed in an understated blue gown, Lady Carmichael’s lady’s maid hovered in the doorway. “If you are quite finished primping, Miss Bainbridge?”
Caddy bit her tongue.
Let the unpleasantness begin.
“Yes. We’re ready.”
Letty melted into a dim corner of the dressing room, while Caddy stepped back so that the gowns would be the first thing Lady Carmichael saw.