"I’m leaving now,” Delyth said to the nearly empty shop. Only Selina, the other dressmaker, and Alice, an apprentice seamstress, remained in the workroom. “I’ll just be taking this with me,” she added in a lower tone. As no one was paying any attention anyway, Delyth slid the copy of the Town Gazette into her bag and left the shop, stopping only to wish Selina a good night.
She knew she should have left the Gazette for Felicity, who probably hadn’t had a chance to read it, but she wanted to show it to Anthea and she was also unsure of whether she really did want Felicity to see it. Delyth was beyond excited to be mentioned in such a prestigious column as “Aglaea’s Cabinet,” but she was not so foolish as to ignore the fact that the description was not wholly laudatory.
The distinction niggled. She adored design. She’d been highly successful in the theater, but she’d come to London (against her father’s wishes, she must admit) to make elegant dresses for the elite. Nothing pleased her so much as handling sumptuous fabrics, draping flattering silhouettes, setting perfect stitches. Except maybe color. She feared that, perhaps, the theater had exacerbated that particular obsession. And in the back of her mind lurked the question, “What would Felicity think about the column?” Since taking over her mother’s shop, Felicity Dawkins had been working diligently to increase its consequence, not to mention its income. Lately she had seemed even more desperate to restore the shop to its former glory and make it immediately successful. It worried Delyth.
The thought of returning to her lodgings and discussing her concerns with the good friend with whom she shared the flat cheered Delyth immensely. She was probably at the theater right now, but when she returned, Anthea would definitely have an opinion. She always did.
Delyth may have left the theater for the more genteel world of dressmaking, but her heart remained with the friends she had left behind, and her home was still with Anthea Drinkwater, her closest friend in London and the driving force behind the Thalia Theatre.
Night had fallen by the time Delyth reached her lodgings. She found Anthea sitting at her writing table before the window.
“Are you well?” she asked before she had even shed her shawl and bonnet.
“Quite.” Anthea looked up from the pages she was reading. “Why do you ask?”
“You’re home,” Delyth pointed out as she placed her bonnet on the hook by the door and dropped the Gazette next to Anthea’s pile of papers.
“I had noticed that,” Anthea said. “It’s Tuesday, you know, and I thought I’d rather work at home. Do you mind?”
“Not in the slightest.” Delyth dropped a kiss on the top of Anthea’s head and passed her the Gazette. “My gown is mentioned in ‘Aglaea’s Cabinet’ and I couldn’t wait to show it to you.”
“You stole the Gazette from your employer?” Anthea opened the paper and went searching for the fashion column.
“I borrowed it from my employer,” Delyth said, grabbing the paper back from her friend and folding it to the appropriate page before returning it to her. “There.” She pointed.
Almack’s glittered in its inimitable dingy way on Wednesday last. At least, let me say that the attendees glittered, although some were more glittery than others. Although we had sufficient representation of the handsome young ladies in their first Season, clad almost exclusively in white (with the occasional interruption of pastels bordering on white), attention must be given to Lady M, whom one might be forgiven for supposing had somehow missed the entrance to Astley’s and ended up at Almack’s. Lady M not only glittered, she shone, she flashed, she radiated. One might say she flared. If you ventured close enough to Lady M to see beyond the dazzling array of colors with which she was adorned, you might notice that, eye-searing choices aside, the gown itself was of elegant and impeccable construction. One might hope that the creator of this extravaganza will be more judicious in the fabric choices for her next effort.
As Anthea read, Delyth hovered over her shoulder reading along with her. Without removing her eyes from the paper, Anthea waved her hand. “Stop that.” But Delyth was too excited. She backed off a bit and danced on her toes as she waited for her friend to finish.
When Anthea was done reading, she folded the paper and handed it back to Delyth. “Bringing this home was a wise decision.”
“Should I show this to Felicity or will she think it’s a bad thing?”
Anthea shook her head. “Are you demented?”
Delyth grinned. “Might be,” she said. “Why do you ask?”
“You cannot show this to Miss Dawkins. If she hasn’t seen it on her own, you might get to keep your position at Madame Follette’s.”
Delyth cocked an eyebrow at her friend. “Nonsense. Look at this.” She opened the paper and waved it in front of her friend’s face. “She says the gown was of ‘elegant and impeccable construction’ and the colors were ‘dazzling.’”
Anthea looked as though she was trying not to roll her eyes. “Not,” she said, “in a good way.” She hesitated a moment and then gave her friend a puzzled look. “What, precisely did this dress look like?”
Delyth grinned again. “It was elegant and of impeccable construction and the colors were dazzling.”
“Let’s talk about the colors,” Anthea said, “as they seem to be the real issue here. What colors did you use?”
“Oh, they were wonderful: a deep crimson with a violet over-skirt, yellow piping, and just a hint of the palest green lace.”
Anthea closed her eyes. “Truly? You had a customer who wore that?”
“Of course. Lady Marjoribanks loved it. In fact, she chose most of the fabric.” Delyth frowned. “You’re really upset about this, aren’t you?”
“And so should you be,” Anthea said. “The colors . . .” Her voice trailed off.
“The colors would look wonderful from the back of the house,” Delyth said.
“Quite likely, but your customer was not on stage. She was in an assembly room.”
“Whatever you may say,” Delyth said, still unable to suppress her smile, “my gown was mentioned in ‘Aglaea’s Cabinet.’”
Anthea gave a long-suffering sigh. “But not in a good way.”
Anthea went back to work and Delyth returned to dithering. Although she tried to convince herself that she didn’t care what Felicity thought of the article, she really did. Leaving Whitchurch against her father’s wishes had made it imperative that she earn her own living, which she had done quite handsomely, thanks to Anthea and the Thalia, thank you very much. But she knew that costume design was not quite as respectable as where she was now and she could not—would not—return to her father as less than a success in proper society. If she returned at all, that is. Displeasing Felicity might assure that she never had another opportunity to step out of the back room. But she did love color so and Lady Marjoribanks was quite happy with her gown.
Not for the first time, Delyth wondered if Felicity Dawkins regretted her decision to bring an untried costume designer out of the theater and into her establishment. Granted, Felicity had praised her ability with a needle and seemed to enjoy her unorthodox use of color. Not that Felicity wasn’t a perfectly lovely person and really quite delightful to work for. It’s just that Felicity currently seemed so distracted. Felicity had approved Lady Marjoribanks’s gown before it left the shop, but what if she hadn’t really paid attention to it? What if she were surprised and upset by the bad notice? Delyth had loved that gown to distraction (and so had Lady M). She could barely conceive that it might be the agent of her downfall.
This seems unnecessarily rude.”
Simon, who was busy at his desk in the library of the house he shared with his sister, looked up. “What’s that, dearest?”
“This.” Louisa Merrithew waved her copy of Friday’s Town Gazette. “The paragraph about Lady M.”
“That wasn’t rude,” Simon said. “You were there. She did look like an escapee from Astley’s.”
Louisa winced. “She looked a bit . . . flamboyant. But if you looked closely—looked past the colors—the gown was an elegant and original design, as you may have said. Whoever made it is new in town and quite promising.”
“Promising what?” Simon put down his pen. “The only thing that dress promised was a headache. I cannot credit that a reputable dressmaker would have let her go out in public dressed like that. What was she thinking?”
“She has a wonderful hand with draping and construction,” Louisa said. “You have to find her and help her.”
Simon pushed away from the desk and moved to sit opposite his sister. “I should find her and denounce her. That travesty was not an accident. I should find her and run her out of London. Surely you are jesting.”
“Surely I am not,” Louisa said. “I think we should call on Lady Marjoribanks.”
Simon stood and stirred the fire. “We don’t know her very well,” he said, turning to face his sister.
“She was a friend of Mama’s. She would appreciate our calling and we could perhaps give her a little push while we are there.” Louisa hesitated and then added, “By ‘we’ I, of course, mean you.”
She fluttered her lashes and grinned at her brother.
“Louisa…” Simon’s voice held a warning.
“Good,” Louisa said, getting up and going to the desk. “I’ll send her a note right away.”
As it turned out, Lady Marjoribanks was, indeed, happy to see the late Viscountess Fulbeck’s children and even happier to discuss clothing, one of her most passionate interests. Simon thought that obsession would be a bit more acceptable if the woman could tell one color from another. She obviously couldn’t. The one subdued element in the room turned out to be Lady M’s gray cat masquerading as a cushion.
After Simon apologized for sitting on the ill-tempered beast, he devoted himself to an inventory of the rest of the room. He squinted slightly as he took it all in, barely lending an ear as Lady M and Louisa chatted merrily about who was wearing what and which mantua-maker was coming into fashion. Normally, he would have been more than interested in such a discussion.
Everything was fodder for “Aglaea’s Cabinet.” But examining the vibrant pink figured draperies against the shocking green damask on the wall made him think that anything Lady Marjoribanks had to say about fashion must be taken with a rather large grain of salt.
It was obvious to Simon that Lady M’s most recent dressmaker had taken advantage of the fact that the peeress could not distinguish colors and had made the lady a laughingstock. He could only assume that this had been done with malice and he was currently finding it hard to forgive whoever that person was.
“Don’t you agree, Simon?”
Simon looked up from his reverie, blinking against the sunlight glinting off the competing colors in the room.
Louisa, as usual, recognized his predicament. “Don’t you agree that we should try her new dressmaker? She said she’d be happy to give us her direction.”
Well then, that’s taken care of, Simon thought. Thank goodness for Louisa. He turned to their hostess. “I would love to meet this person. And I’m sure Louisa would not mind if I added to her wardrobe.”
“Come in.” Delyth returned to Vine Street the next morning with the Gazette tucked under her arm. Regardless of Anthea’s pessimistic view of Felicity’s potential response to “Aglaea’s Cabinet,” Delyth didn’t feel that it was quite right to hide it from her. Especially since this copy was actually Felicity’s. She stuck her head in the workroom and said good morning to Selina, but saw no sign of Felicity. Leaving her shawl at her worktable and taking the Gazette with her, Delyth went back through the front of the shop and knocked on the door to the small office where Felicity and her brother conducted the business.
Well, that wasn’t Felicity’s voice, but Delyth cracked open the door and peered in.
“Excuse me, Mr. Dawkins. I’m looking for your sister.”
Henry Dawkins looked up from the ledger he was working on and removed his glasses. “Not here,” he said, placing the glasses on the desk. “She should be back after noon. May I help you, Miss Owen?”
Delyth stepped just inside the office door and hesitated. Should she speak to Mr. Dawkins? He was a huge and frightening-looking presence in the shop, but he always seemed kind when he spoke to any of his sister’s workers. Yes, she decided, why not?
“Well . . .” she began, taking the Gazette from behind her back and holding it in both hands. “It’s just that, well, the Town Gazette—that is, Miss Felicity’s Town Gazette arrived in the shop yesterday.”
Henry Dawkins put his glasses back on and peered at Delyth as if trying to read her mind. “And?” he prompted.
“And . . . well . . . I borrowed it and took it home before she saw it.”
“Ah.” He nodded. “That’s not a problem. I see you’ve brought it back.”
Delyth fidgeted with the paper, folding it into squares of diminishing size. “That’s not the problem,” she said and began unfolding the paper. When it was once again its normal size, she handed it to Mr. Dawkins and pointed to “Aglaea’s Cabinet.” “Here,” she said. “See what it says.”
Henry Dawkins removed his glasses again, polished them, and put them back on before taking up the paper.
“Hmmm. I see where you might be uneasy, Miss Owen.” He put the paper to one side and looked up at Delyth.
She repressed an urge to take several steps back. “What should I do? I love my job here. I don’t want Miss Felicity to send me away. I love designing clothes. I can’t help it if I love color. Lady Marjoribanks adored her dress. How can that be a bad thing? I don’t want to go back to the theater.”
“Miss Owen!” Mr. Dawkins said. “Take a breath.”
“Oh.” Realizing that she had been on verge of having a fit of hysterics in front of this man she didn’t know very well, Delyth deflated. “Oh, forgive me,” she said. “It’s only that . . .”
“Yes, I know,” he said. “It’s only that you don’t want to lose your job.”
“Yes,” Delyth said. “That.”
“Miss Owen, you must calm yourself. This is one opinion of one gown by one person. My sister is not so unreasonable as to fire a talented employee over something so singular.”
“But Aglaea, whoever she is, is very influential.”
“Possibly so,” Dawkins said, pulling his ledger closer to him. “But you must trust Felicity to do the right thing.”
“Thank you, sir.” Delyth bobbed a curtsy and backed out of the office, wondering what right thing Felicity would do. It was too late now. Mr. Dawkins had the paper and all Delyth could do was go back to work and hope for the best.
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