This is chapter 2 of a story about Ella Middleton, a seamstress working in London during the early reign of Queen Victoria who is exactly her age. Ella misses her father and struggles coping with loneliness and a host of unsuitable suitors that her mother likes to send her way. She has just taken on a new and wealth client.
“Ella,” My mother took me aside before dinner. “You’ll be completely in charge of Juliet’s new wardrobe. We have so many orders this season that none of us will be able to lend a hand. Can you do it by yourself?”
I nodded calmly. “Yes, Mama. I’ll be fine.” I took a deep breath. “It’s a big task, but I’ve been sewing for years now. I know I can do it.”
Mother’s hand dropped from my shoulder as she sighed with relief. “Well then, if you are certain.” She turned and run the breakfast bell.
I gazed out the window as I waited for the room to fill with girls. At our shop we boarded seamstresses from the country and had a few girls from the city who came as day workers. I watched people walking back and forth in the street. There was a gentleman on the opposing side walk that caught my eye. He wore a long black coat and a top hat. I saw little else of him, as his back was turned, but something in his manner seemed friendly and protective. I wondered who he was.
“Ella!” Evangeline, one of the seamstresses, called to me. “We’re ready to sit down.”
I turned from the window and took my seat at the breakfast table. As I often did, I let my mind free to wander in my thoughts. I spent the morning cutting fabric for the patterns juliet had chosen. She had scheduled a fitting at 3 that afternoon, so I worked to piece together as much as I could before she arrived. When the lunch bell rang I stood and stretched my back.
“Oh, Ella!” My mother met me at the door into the dining room. “I forgot to tell you. There’s a gentleman who’d like to call on you.”
“And he is?” I brushed past her through the doorway, trying to be politely disinterested.
“His name is Frederick Williamson and he is quite good looking.” My mother followed me through the room.
“The owner of the cotton mill a few blocks away?” I looked up, not too surprised. He was rich. Of course my mother liked him.
“Yes! And I hear he owns a large sewing house as well. You should be honored that he’s taken a liking to you.”
“How does he know of me?” I gave her a slightly puzzled expression.
“Oh, he’s heard of your talent through the market. Your name is a rising one!” She smiled proudly. “You remember Daisy? The girl who left us last fall. I believe she told him about you.”
I stared absently at the fruit on the table, wondering what sort of fellow he would be. “Well, I take it he’s spoken to you and that you’ve told him I would meet him?”
“Yes! He’s going to come to the Sunday service at our church and I’ve invited him to dinner.”
I looked forward to Juliet’s appearance that afternoon. Just before three I left the sewing room and cleaned up a bit before heading to the store front. She didn’t appear with the strike of the clock, so I absently walked around the shop tidying things. I glanced up as the door opened.
“Welcome to Middleton Dressmakers,” I smiled.
“Oh, thank you.” A tall gentleman smiled at me and removed his top hat as he closed the door. I could have sworn it was the gentleman I’d seen in the street that morning.
“How may I help you?” I laid down the bolt of fabric I’d been refolding.
“I’m here for my sister juliet.” He smiled as he spoke and brushed back a lock of hair. I remember noticing that it was undecided in color just like his sisters. Sometimes it looked brown and sometimes blond.
“Is she unable to come?” I felt disappointed. I’d been excited about her fitting.
“Our carriage wheel broke this morning. She will be able to come later in the evening, half past four, if you are able to see her then.” He held his hat in his hands at he spoke and his blue eyes looked at me with a distractingly intense gaze.
“Certainly! I’d be pleased to see her later. I’ll simply cut a pattern for another one of her dresses and she’ll have even more to try on.”
“Thank you. I will let her know.” He bowed slightly and stepped out of the shop.
I headed back to the sewing garret. My eyes followed the scissors across the cloth as I pondered the gentleman I’d just met. Something about him felt familiar and safe. I couldn’t remember ever having seen him before, but it felt as if he knew me.
“Ella!” one of the girls who worked primarily in the shop front was calling from the garret doorway. “There’s a lady to see you, Juliet Willingham.”
I dropped my scissors and picked up what I had ready. Lost in my thoughts of Juliet’s brother and then of what Frederick would be like I had completely lost track of time. I walked strait to the fitting room and found juliet waiting there for me.
“Ella!” She smiled. “Oooh,” she gasped with a smile growing over her face as she saw the pale blue silk for one of the gowns.
I smiled and held it up. “You like it?”
“Oh, I love it!” her eyes were wide with delight. “I’ve never been able to pick out my own wardrobe before. Mother always has done it for me.”
“Well, you’re going out. It’s very important to make sure the clothes are just the way you want them.” I smiled. “If you notice the slightest thing you want changed, let me know. You need to feel amazing when you are wearing these clothes.”
Juliet smiled as I pinned the fabric around her. She glanced in the mirror anxiously, and then looked at her feet. “I’m so dreadfully nervous about going out. . .”
“Don’t be!” I laughed. “Not that I would know what it’s like for a lady, but it wasn’t ever anything to be terrified of for me.”
“Do you have a beau?” she asked.
I pulled a needle out of my mouth and stuck it in the fabric. “No! I haven’t actually been seeing anyone for several months. But my mother has found a suitor for me that I’m to meet on Sunday.”
“Oh really?” Juliet was eager to know all about going out. “What is he like? Do you know anything about him?”
“Well, he is the successful owner of a large sewing house and a cotton mill. His name is Frederick Williamson.” I laughed to myself at how he must seem such a small man to Juliet, who was going out to choose a husband among lords.
“That sounds grand, ouch!” She jumped a little as I accidently poked her with a needle.
“My apologies.” I moved the needle quickly. “There. Take a look at yourself.” I stood back as she posed for the mirror.
“It’s… it’s beautiful.” She beamed. “I’ve never worn anything in this color before.”
We spent the next hour pinning, unpinning, and discussing the process of going out. Before our session ended the two of us had grown to like each other a great deal.
“You know, if all of these dresses turn out well to my liking and my mother’s, we might offer to have you as the family seamstress.” juliet said as she finished putting on her gown again.
“Really?” I might have blushed at such an extreme offer and potential complement to my work.
“Yes,” Juliet smiled. “And I’d love it if that were the case. Then I’d see you all the time.”
“Well, that sounds like a wonderful challenge.” I smiled at her as we walked to the front of the shop. As she stepped into the street I turned away wondering what on earth would come of it.