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Authors: Mary Burchell

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The Wedding Dress

BOOK: The Wedding Dress
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THE WEDDING DRESS

Mary Burchell

Loraine and her father had never been very close, and it was therefore astonishing to discover after his death that he had been greatly concerned about her and had appointed a guardian for herself and her affairs. She wished he had chosen someone a little less problematical than a remote sort of cousin living in Paris and had little doubt the cousin wished that too.

Since he could not come to England himself, her guardian summoned Loraine to Paris, and she found herself abruptly transferred from the relative seclusion of an English boarding-school to the heady atmosphere of Paris in May. At the age of eighteen she was not likely to resent that, and from the moment she stepped off the train at the Gare du Nord
;
she was tinglingly aware of a subtle excitement in the air which belongs solely to Paris.

Her only concern was her unknown guardian and his plans for her, but it was through him she found a dazzling career in the world of fashion—and also the love of her life.

 

CHAPTER
ONE

IT was a p
erfectly beautiful wedding. No one was in any doubt about that.

But then it could hardly have been otherwise, Loraine thought, as she stood gravely a few paces behind the bride, hoping that her guardian, somewhere in the congregation, found her back view satisfactory.

After all, the bridegroom was the handsome and charming Roger Senloe, the bride his entrancingly pretty and radiant Marianne, and all the bridal dresses had been specially designed and made by the famous house of Florian. No wonder the photographers had crowded round as the bride entered the church, and were almost certainly already jockeying for position once more, in readiness for the moment when the procession should re-emerge.

Even now Loraine found it difficult to credit that she herself had become part of this magnificent occasion. And, try as she would to keep her whole attention on the ceremony, she could not quite prevent her thoughts from wandering over the extraordinary events which had taken place since her father’s death six weeks ago.

It was no use pretending that Loraine and her father had ever been close to each other. Perhaps, she thought with genuine compassion, because he had expended all that was warm and human in him on her pretty young mother who had died when she was six. In a curious way, she felt no rancor about her father’s indifference. It was as though she knew, from the very beginning, that something in him too had died when she was six, and neither he nor she could do anything to revive it.

He was never in the least unkind to her. But he retreated more and more into the historical research which became his sole joy in life, and for long periods at a time he simply ceased to remember that Loraine existed.

It was all the more astonishing, therefore, to discover, on his death, that in the last weeks on his life he had apparently been greatly concerned about her. Certainly to
the extent of appointing a guardian of herself and her affairs.

Perhaps one always did that when there was a certain amount of money involved and the recipient was only eighteen

Loraine was not very clear on that point

but at least she wished he had chosen someone a little less problematical than a remote sort of cousin living in Paris.

She had little doubt that the remote cousin profoundly wished that too. But there was not much that either of them could do about it. At least, they had not found any real solution of the problem yet.

Since he could not at that moment come to England himself, he had summoned Loraine to Paris. And, with very little time even to assess the immensity of the change, she had found herself abruptly transferred from the relative seclusion of an English boarding-school to the heady atmosphere of Paris in May.

At eighteen, no one is likely to resent that, of course, and Loraine was no exception. From the moment she stepped off the train at the Gare du Nord, she was tinglingly aware of a subtle excitement in the air

that shimmer of something in the atmosphere which belongs solely to Paris. It is akin to the bubbles in champagne or moonlight on the water. No one can define it, and no one with a spark of romance can be quite indifferent to it.

There was nothing the matter with Paris, so far as Loraine was concerned. The fly in the amber was the cousin.

Not that Paul Cardine was even really a cousin. Just one of those third or fourth removes which occur in many families and are so difficult to work out to their exact degree of relationship. So far as she was aware, they had never met before. But a tall man, with singularly light blue eyes in a thin, tanned face, came up to her without hesitation and said:


You’re Loraine Darnell, aren’t you?


Yes. How did you know?

Loraine could not help asking.


You looked as I expected you to look,

he replied coolly, and she was left wondering if there were something foreseeably odd about her,
or if he merely wanted to impress her with his clever powers of deduction.

Conversation in the car, on the way from the station, was not exactly flowing. She made one or two gallant attempts to be pleasing and sociable. But either she failed or his thoughts were very much on something else. And, after one or two surreptitious glances at his good but rather uncompromising profile, she lapsed into silence.

His home turned out to be an unexpectedly large and luxurious apartment, and here he handed her over to his housekeeper

an elderly woman who answered to the unexpectedly coy name of Mimi. She spoke in the harsh accents of Normandy, which sounded disconcertingly different from any French Loraine had learned at her English boarding-school, and she seemed hardly more interested in Loraine than her master was.

It would all have been very dismaying if two English friends of her new guardian had not providentially dropped in for drinks before dinner. These were introduced to Loraine as Roger Senloe, a colleague of Paul Cardine’s at the Embassy, and Marianne Shore, who was to marry Roger in a fortnight’s time.

It was Marianne who got L
o
raine cosily into a corner and drew her out on the subject of her arrival in Paris, while the two men discussed something of obvious interest to them both.


Do you mean you have no family at all except Paul Cardine, you poor little thing?

exclaimed the friendly Marianne.


There are some other cousins of varying degree scattered about England, I believe,

Loraine said,

but I don’t really know any of them. I don’t really know

Paul.

It was quite difficult to refer to him thus familiarly when he was such a remote and aloof sort of person.

It’s just that my father picked him out as the one most suitable to be a

my guardian. Though I’d much rather he’d chosen some stuffy old family lawyer, to tell the truth,

she added under her breath.


But then you wouldn’t have come to Paris,

pointed out the sharp-eared Marianne with a smile.

And Paris in May is something not to be dismissed lightly.


Well

that’s true.

Loraine could not help smiling too.

Have you lived here a long time?


Not really

no. And after we’re married Roger and I are going to Vienna. He’s just been transferred there.


Oh

I’m sorry,

Loraine said, very truly. For she had just been thinking what a support this friendly, happy girl would be in her new strange life.


I’m sorry too, in many ways,

Marianne admitted.

Though Roger says Vienna is heavenly too. But I’ll tell you what I’ll do


she looked kindly at the younger girl’s slightly disconsolate expression


I’ll see to it that you meet as many of our friends as possible before we
go. Then you’ll have the nucleus of a circle and

Why


She stopped suddenly.

Do you mind standing
up for a minute and letting me see how tall you are?

Slightly mystified, Loraine obliged, and the other girl actually clasped her hands with delight.


You’re just the right height! And dark, too, which is what we need

and so slender and pretty. Oh, Loraine
may I call you Loraine?

will you please do me a great favor?


Why, of course

if I can.

Loraine was touched and flattered by this appeal, as well as puzzled.


Will you
please
be one of my bridesmaids?


One of your bridesmaids?

Loraine exclaimed, flushing with pleasure and astonishment.

But I

you hardly know me. I mean

it’s a sort of

of honor and privilege to be a bridesmaid, isn’t it? Something reserved for family and old friends.


But one can have anyone one likes,

Marianne asserted firmly.

And I’d like to have you.


Because you’re rather

sorry for me?


Oh, no! Nothing horrid and condescending like that!

Marianne rejected such an idea scornfully.

Partly because I liked you on sight, and partly because it would be of the utmost assistance to me.


But how?

Lorraine looked intrigued, and again she could not help smiling at the vivid face before her.


I’m unexpectedly one bridesmaid short because an old school friend has gone and got married herself. I could just have borne it myself to have the procession rearranged, but Florian won’t hear of it and is in a great to-do about it.


Florian?

said Loraine questioningly.


The
F
l
orian, you know. The great dress-designer,

Marianne explained rapidly.

He was my employer, and he and his wife are Roger’s closest friends. They angelically insisted on giving me my wedding here in Paris. That’s why I’m being married here, instead of at home in England, and my family are coming over for it.


But what a princely gesture for an employer to make!

Loraine looked astonished.


Florian’s like that. He can be madly generous, and he enjoys what you aptly describe as princely gestures. Also I’m bound to say he likes to be the one to manage things.

Marianne smiled indulgently.

Roger says it’s also wonderful publicity for him

but that’s Florian too. He’s the oddest mixture of romance and worldliness.


He sounds

nice,

Loraine said.


Oh, he’s a
darling!

Marianne declared.

Usually,

she added, as though some sharp recollection made her qualify that.

And, though I really don’t mind much about the details of this wedding, so long as Roger is the bridegroom, I haven’t the heart to query Florian’s arrangements. He’s almost personally offended that I’m one bridesmaid short, and you really would solve a problem if you would be the substitute. Besides

I’d love to have you,

she concluded winningly.


Then of course I should simply love to accept,

Loraine assured her.

But I suppose


she glanced doubtfully across the room


I have to ask my cousin first.


Whatever for?

Marianne wanted to know.


Well

he’s

I suppose he’s responsible for me now. I’m sure he would
expect
me to consult him

about anything.


Then I’ll ask him.

Marianne was evidently sure of her own ability to get what she wanted.

Mr. Cardine?

She raised her voice slightly and Loraine’s cousin immediately glanced across.


I’m going to borrow Loraine for one of my bridesmaids, if you have no objection. Don’t you think it’s a splendid idea, Roger?

she ran on, as though the matter were already settled.

She is just the right height. Florian will be charmed.

For the first time Loraine saw her guardian smile, and a very attractive smile it was, with a sparkle of genuine amusement for Marianne’s tactics, she thought.


I imagine Loraine will be delighted,

he said, with a hint of indulgence in his voice which was, presumably, for Marianne rather than herself.

What about getting her dress? There isn’t much time left.


That’s just it. Her dress is more or less ready, as it was prepared for someone of almost exactly her build. There’ll be hardly any alteration needed. Florian must see her tomorrow.

And so, to Loraine’s mingled bewilderment and delight, she had been rushed along, the following morning, to the famous dress house in the Avenue Georges V. There a slight, charming, but authoritative man had pronounced her suitable for the bridal procession, and she found herself one of eight pretty, eager girls who were to follow Marianne to the altar.

As a very latecomer, she felt a trifle diffident about her part in things. But, to her surprise, she earned the instantaneous approval of Madame Moisant

the waspish but infinitely efficient directrice of Florian. And, at the final fitting, Madame Moisant bluntly told the others that they could not do better than copy Mademoiselle Loraine in the way they held their heads and in the matter of general carriage.


Thus,

she assured them,

you will look like flowers upon a stem rather than camels looking for water.

Everyone made the utmost effort to look like flora instead of fauna after that, and, in the final event, undoubtedly the bridesmaids would have stolen the show if the bride had not looked so supremely lovely and happy. Florian, however, was too good a showman to allow the principal figure to be eclipsed by mere supers. And so
Marianne remained the centre of what was undoubtedly a ravishing picture.

She looked very grave and sweet, but intensely happy. And, if it had not been for the thought of Philip Otway, Loraine would almost have envied her

though in the friendliest and most well-wishing way possible, of course.

But if one had Philip in the back of one’s mind

and, indeed, very often in the front of it too

it was not possible to envy anyone who was only marrying nice Roger Senloe. For Philip was the most romantic, the most exciting, thing which had ever happened in Loraine’s life. He was, in fact, her principal reason for regretting, and even resenting, the somewhat arbitrary move which had taken her from England to Paris.

The Otways

Philip and his elegantly beautiful mother

had rented the attractive but
startlingly
modern house which was the nearest habitation to Loraine’s own
rather
gloomy home. She had known nothing about their actual arrival because she had been away at school. But during the long summer holidays of the previous year she had first met Philip.

It had been on the day she was eighteen. And, even now, as she stood apparently motionless and absorbed behind Marianne

her graceful dark head crowned with its wisp of tulle, her dark-fringed grey eyes wide and serious

she trembled slightly to remember the exquisitely sweet importance of that meeting.

He had only said,

Hallo, what are you doing here all alone?

But, as she had looked up at him from the warm turf on which she was sitting and noted the strong, graceful lines of his figure and the easy way his long brown fingers held his horse’s reins, she thought she had never seen anything or anyone who more truly embodied romance.


I’m doing absolutely nothing,

Loraine had informed him rather disconsolately.

And, if you want to know, I’m fed up with it.

He laughed at that and, turning his horse loose to graze, he came over and dropped down on the heather beside her.


Tell me about it,

he said, as though it really mattered to him that she was unhappy.


It’s not really very interesting


she began.

But then, suddenly, because his laughing dark eyes surveyed her with such interest and understanding, she found herself telling him all about the fact that she was eighteen that day and no one

not even her father

had noticed it.


You mean

no presents? no party? no anything?

He seemed incredulous.

Oh, but we must do something about that!


But how?

Fascinated by the idea that he could possibly interest himself in her little affairs, Loraine had gazed at him as though he were a being from another world.


Where do you live?

he inquired.

And what is your name?

She had told him, unhesitatingly, and when he discovered that they were, as he put it, practically next-door neighbors, he declared that the whole thing was simple.


I shall take you home to my mother and we’ll make a little party for you,

he informed her.

My mother will telephone to your father and explain that we’re keeping you with us for the evening.


B-but we’re strangers,

she stammered.

You don’t know anything about me.


I know a great deal about you,

he retorted.

I know that you’re called Loraine and you’re eighteen and the prettiest, sweetest thing I've seen for many a long day. What more do I need to know?

He had taken her home with him then, and Mrs. Otway proved to be just as charming and kind as her son. She insisted on telephoning to explain Loraine’s absence, even though Loraine hardly thought her father would notice her non-appearance, and then both the Otways contrived to impart an enchanting air of festivity to the afternoon and evening.

Incredibly, Mrs. Otway even found a lovely silk scarf for a birthday present. And, when he learned that Loraine took ballet lessons and was passionately interested in the subject, Philip Otway produced a beautifully illustrated
book on famous ballerinas, from his own collection. He wrote her name in it and the date of her eighteenth birthday,

so that she would never forget the day,

as he said.

For other reasons too, Loraine knew she would never forget that day. For one thing, that was when she fell completely and irretrievably in love with Philip.

She was not entirely aware of this the very first day, of course. But during the rest of the summer the Otways made it their business to see a good deal of the lonely girl on the next estate. And Loraine soon discovered

a discovery only confirmed during the Christmas holidays

that life without Philip and his mother had been no more than a dull existence.

Both of them had been away from home when Loraine had been briefly summoned from school to her father’s funeral. And then had come the transfer to Paris. And although it was incredibly exciting and thrilling to be a bridesmaid at a fashionable wedding and wear a Florian creation, Loraine still thought nostalgically of Philip and knew that what she wanted most in the world was to have him smile at her and assure her that, somehow, he would always be there.

It was difficult to make any firm plans of her own because her guardian had not yet outlined his ideas for her future. But she cheered herself by the recollection that the Otways came to Paris sometimes. Philip because he was a successful artist and had artistic connections there, and Mrs. Otway because she bought her clothes there

even, Loraine thought she remembered, at Florian’s.

So she refused to torment herself with the idea that any real break had taken place. She must be patient

just as one had had to be throughout the terms at school

and presently Philip would be there again and all would be well.

At the reception after the wedding

held in one of the smaller but most exclusive hotels in Paris

Loraine found herself the object of a gratifying amount of admiration.

Even her guardian said to her,

You looked absolutely charming, Loraine.

And, though she thought it was perhaps more satisfaction at her having done him credit than anything else, she warmed to the smile of approval which he bestowed on her before he went to speak to more
i
nteresting people.

Then Madame Florian herself came up to tell Loraine how beautifully she had played her part. And when Loraine ventured to congratulate her shyly on her perfect English, she laughed and said:


But I am English, my dear. I was an English mannequin in Florian’s dress house. And then he married me.

It sounded deliciously simple and romantic, Loraine thought, put that way, and she looked at Madame Florian with interest.


Isn’t it awfully difficult to get into a French dress house if you’re English?

she inquired.


Not if you have what the designer happens to want.


And what is that?

Loraine asked, with real curiosity.


Oh


Gabrielle Florian laughed

it’s difficult to define, and not always just the same quality. There must be a certain amount of grace and

charm, I suppose, and the ability to wear clothes, of course. But, over and above that, there has to be a subtle something which moves a great designer to fresh inspiration.


And you have that?

Loraine looked impressed.


I’m not sure that I have,

was the frank reply.

I wasn’t a professional mannequin, chosen from a crowd. I was substituted at the last moment for someone who had had an accident a few days before the Collection was to open. I think I owed my chance to a fortunate likeness and the right measurements. Then, before I really found my place in the next Collection, I married Florian. So we never found out.

But she laughed again, on a happy note which suggested she was satisfied to remain unknowing of her real qualifications since she had achieved her heart’s desire instead.


Then I suppose


Loraine glanced across at the beautiful bride, now the centre of congratulation and admiration


I suppose Marianne had that indefinable quality you speak of?


Oh, no. Not at all, according to Florian himself. She’s a lovely, charming girl and a perfect darling. But not a designer’s source of inspiration. That’s something
quite different. It’s


Gabrielle gestured a little helplessly, a curiously French movement, to show how impossible it was to explain the inexplicable.


But Monsieur Florian was Marianne’s employer, surely?


Oh, yes, of course. But she was in the boutique downstairs. A wonderful saleswoman and a great attraction there.


I see.

Loraine
considered that thoughtfully, her wide grey eyes reflective between their smoky dark lashes.

Then I wonder just what


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