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Authors: Linda Lee Chaikin

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Written on Silk (3 page)

BOOK: Written on Silk
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Rachelle noted that Sir James Hudson used the masculine term,
couturier
, for designer, and she was not at all surprised. Indeed, in most courts throughout Europe, men were the couturiers of women’s clothing, though women were hired as grisettes. But in clothing designed for royalty, or for any woman of nobility or fashion, women held little role in the origination process. This was so in the Dushane-Macquinet family until Grandmère’s entry into the French court during the reign of King Francis I when she designed a wardrobe for Princesse Anne of Brittany upon the request and arrangement by Grandmère’s own
cousine
, the
Duchesse
Dushane. Without their courage and foresight, the Daughters of Silk, as Rachelle and Idelette preferred to be called, would not be receiving Sir James Hudson from London. Their mère, Madame Clair, was not skilled in needlework or design, but rather in the production of cloth and of selling it both near and far to monsieurs like Hudson. Père Arnaut managed the silkworms and mulberry groves, while Madame Clair oversaw the weavers and the needs of their families.

Rachelle and Idelette acknowledged Hudson’s compliment with a customary graceful dip of the head, while remaining studiously silent, as Madame Clair expected, before turning their gaze back to her.

Madame Clair was always the gracious and noble lady of the Château de Silk. Her hair, the fair color of champagne, which had been passed on to Idelette, was arranged at the back of her head. Before church service she always put on her headdress, the
coif
. This afternoon she wore a high-necked black and white silk dress with draping white lace at her still-smooth neck and wrists. The dress brought Rachelle great pleasure because she had designed it for her mère as a gift, just as she and Idelette were now working on a dress for Avril’s birthday. Rachelle took special pleasure in the lace she had designed for her mère’s wrists. It was a little longer than the present fashion and fell softly in pleated folds with a silvery thread embroidered throughout that complemented the black silk and softened the dark color. Rachelle had made the lace longer to help her mère hide a deformity of her left hand where, as a young girl she had lost a finger through disease after she cut herself.

That is part of my mission as a designer
, she thought, satisfied.
I want
to help women feel good about their bodies, which God designed, even parts
that are not perfect.
After all, what figure was perfect since the fall of mankind? Whether tall, short, plump, or thin, a woman could look
élé-gante
if clothed in the right lines and colors. And if they understood who they were in Christ, as God’s dear children “accepted in the Beloved,”they would be élégante from the inside out.

“And so, if you will permit me . . .” Hudson was saying.

Rachelle snapped her mind to attention. Her gaze followed him across the atelier to the cutting table which had been cleared of projects, for tomorrow was Sunday. He opened his large brown leather satchel with its gold initials, J. H.

Hudson laid out several variations of a lavish gown that Rachelle learned were his own creations. She was impressed, as was Madame Clair and Idelette. After a low murmur of approval, Monsieur Hudson explained.


Mesdames
, it is our hope at Hudson Draperies that this particular gown be created from Macquinet silk in the color of — ” he ceased speaking and looked across the atelier to the bolts of silks in variations of violet, crimson, pink, ash-colored satin embroidered in silver, straw-colored velvet, dove-colored moire worked in gold and orange, yellow, ginger, orange, russet, sarcenet, and pink cobweb-lawn striped with silver . . .

“Ah, this! This is wondrous!” He removed the bolt of rosy-pink silk and laid it on the table, then took down the silvery satin with pearlized embroidery and laid it next to the shimmering silk. He tilted his dark head. “Yes, as you say,
c’est magnifique
. Add a matching ostrich feather fan of the same pink, and the outfit is stunning.”

Rachelle stole a glance at Idelette to see her reaction to the lively Monsieur Hudson. There was a glint of admiration in her light blue eyes. She had tightened her lips, though, as if finding her reaction an unworthy embarrassment. Rachelle thought again that her sister was at times difficult to understand.

“And this gown must be sewn by — ” once more Hudson paused, this time he bowed toward Rachelle and Idelette — “by the renowned Daughters of Silk,
Mesdemoiselles
Idelette and Rachelle Macquinet.”

Rachelle smiled her excitement with a dip of her skirts. “
Merci
, Monsieur, I am
honoré
, I assure you. You have chosen the cloth and the colors which I would have favored for such a glorious gown — though I would add ermine to collar and cuffs.”

“A tasteful suggestion, Mademoiselle.” He smiled at her.

Rachelle looked away to Idelette. “And you, sister?”

Idelette would have pleased even Grandmère with her grave but miniscule curtsy. Idelette always retained her dignity which came naturally for her, Rachelle thought. Idelette should have been born to royalty.

“I am honoré as well, Monsieur, but such a splendid gown. It will be most trying not to have the proper mademoiselle test the fit in person as my sister and I work. It is, well, almost unheard of. I am most curious to know for whom is this belle dress designed?”

Rachelle had wondered also. She saw Hudson exchange a secretive smile with Madame Clair. Rachelle understood that it must be someone of great renown and that the project could bring notoriety. Her heart began to pound with expectation.

The smile on Hudson’s face turned the corners of his mouth upward so that Rachelle guessed he was pleased with Idelette’s knitted-brow curiosity.

“When you and your sister have completed this gown, my father and I will present it as a gift to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I of England.”

Rachelle’s heart skipped like a young unicorn dancing on the high hills. Queen Elizabeth of England!

Idelette stood in silence, and James Hudson’s dark eyes seemed to sparkle with satisfaction over their breathless response. Rachelle thought that Madame Clair had known this before she brought Hudson to meet them, for she was merely smiling over their excitement.

“The Queen of England,” Idelette said, shocked. “But, Monsieur, the measurements, the fittings — how can we be expected to sew such a stunning royal gown here in Lyon?”

“You need not be anxious, Mademoiselle,” he said cheerily. “I have exact measurements in a sealed envelope, given to me by Her Majesty’s personal mistress of the wardrobe. There is small chance the Daughters of Silk will do other than delight our beloved queen.”

He produced an envelope with a gold seal and handed it to Madame Clair.

“Ah, I and my daughters are indeed honoré. The
bonne
queen is beloved by all Huguenots for her support of our cause in France, and the end of her sister Mary’s horrendous persecutions in England.”

“Who else is more worthy of this task than your daughters? The gowns they made for the French royalty remain the talk of women of fashion in London’s highest realms.”

Rachelle felt a chill run up her spine.

“It is unfortunate you will not meet Madame Henriette Dushane while you are here at the château,” Madame Clair said. “She remains in Paris with my eldest daughter.”


Oui
, Grandmère is the head couturière of our family enterprise; she is the
grande dame
of the Silk House,” Rachelle boasted with affection.

“She has taught us all,” Idelette added.

“I am not surprised that England’s royalty has looked toward Lyon,” Madame Clair said. “Through several generations we have worked to develop the finest silks and colors in the world.”

“The very cause that brings me here, Madame. The letter from my father speaks for itself. We are altogether anxious to come to terms with the Dushane-Macquinet Silk House.”

As Rachelle knew from past family discussions, James Hudson was here at the château to arrange the final details of an earlier agreement his family had made with her Père Arnaut, for exporting Macquinet silk to the Hudson warehouse in Spitalfields, not far from London.

“We are hoping the negotiations begun with your husband’s representatives in England will come to a successful conclusion,” Hudson said to Madame Clair. “The partnership to be designated Dushane- Macquinet-Hudson, Royal Couturiers of Regent Street, has met with his approval. We are anxious that the Dushane members of your family enterprise also approve.”

“Since Grandmère and her cousine, the Duchesse Dushane, are both in Paris,” Madame Clair said, “we have not been able to discuss the matter of your arrival with them. There has been unexpected sorrow over the death of my daughter’s husband, Comte Sebastien Dangeau.”

Sir James Hudson bowed gravely. “I have heard the sober news, Madame Macquinet, and it is tragic that such persecution rages in France. Thank God such madness as this has ceased in England. The Catholics seek to depose Queen Elizabeth and place one loyal to Spain and Rome on the throne, but so far God has protected England from falling back under Rome’s control.”

Rachelle was pleasantly surprised by his fervency. She noted that Idelette also looked unduly pleased by what could only be taken as a confession of adherence to the Reformation.

“I have taken enough of your time during such a period of grief,” he went on. “I will tell my driver to bring me to an inn and return again on Monday if you permit, Madame.”

“I would not hear of your leaving for an inn, Monsieur Hudson.
Non
, you must stay the night as our guest and attend worship with us in the morning.”

He did look tired and worn. Rachelle suspected her mère was quick to see this, and as always, to show hospitality.

“Madame, you are most kind. I look forward to attending Monsieur Bertrand Macquinet’s exposition in the morning. I have heard him in Spitalfields and know our souls will be refreshed and taught.”

“We will have early supper,” Clair said. “Then our cousin,
Pasteur
Bertrand, will read the Scriptures as he does every Saturday evening. Perhaps you will care to join us, unless you’re too tired from your travels.”

He assured them that he already felt at home due to their kindness and looked forward to them becoming close allies.

Rachelle watched him leave the atelier with her mère. She said to Idelette in a low voice, “Did you notice Monsieur Hudson’s hook and eye clasps on his surcoat?”

“Who could not! Wooden, carved into animal faces!” She wrinkled her aquiline nose and gave a shudder. “What was the face supposed to be?”

“A wolf, I think. I thought them . . . well, rather unique. His taste in buttons shows originality.”

“If you like your fashion reflecting the king’s
palais
zoo.”

“His design for the English queen certainly did not show any such novelty. It is most wondrous, do you not think so?” She walked over to the cutting table where Monsieur Hudson had left them a drawing of his gown.

Idelette followed, taking the drawing from Rachelle’s hand. “
Merveilleux
, indeed.”

“I’m glad he did not object to replacing the lace ruff with a soft ermine collar. I loathe ruffs! They scratch and chafe.” Rachelle rubbed beneath her chin.

“I hear she has red hair and lovely white hands.”

“Is she not the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn?”

“Oui, but he sent Anne to the tower where she was beheaded,”

Idelette said.

Rachelle shuddered. Her memory was tenderly inflamed over the recent massacre of Huguenots at Amboise Castle. Two thousand Huguenots had lost their heads at the orders of the Queen Mother Catherine de Medici and the Guises, the
duc
and the cardinal. Although she had not witnessed it, she had heard about it afterward. Heads had been posted about the ramparts and gates with ghoulish revenge, and blood ran in the courtyard.

Rachelle had escaped that day with assistance from
Marquis
Fabien de Vendôme. Not that she would have lost her head; she had been at Amboise as a lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother’s youngest daughter, Princesse Marguerite Valois, and as such had little to do with those Huguenots who died, accused of treason against the boy-king, Francis. In truth, the Huguenots had been loyal to King Francis. It was the Guise brothers, the duc and the cardinal, whom they had sought to overthrow.

In her heart Rachelle did not fault the Huguenots, for though they had acted precipitously, as Marquis Fabien had said to her, the cardinal was a corrupt and calculating man, devoid of the faith he claimed to represent, and the duc was cunning and powerful, with extreme loyalty to Spain, which undermined his allegiance to the royal Valois family of France. Together they had heaped high the faggots for fires of persecution throughout France against the Huguenots.

As for the Queen Mother who ruled as regent over her Valois son, she would stop at nothing with her arsenal of intrigue to protect the throne of France, first for herself, and then for her sons. She especially desired the throne for her favorite son Henry, often called Anjou. He had not yet grown to manhood, but sadly, there was evidence that he already preferred other little boys to girls.

BOOK: Written on Silk
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