Read A Second Chance Online

Authors: Shayne Parkinson

Tags: #romance, #historical fiction, #family, #new zealand, #farming, #edwardian, #farm life

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Mrs Stevenson was very willing to offer
suggestions. She held up different fabrics against Amy, frowning at
the effect of some, which were then returned to their places, while
others received an approving nod. She sought both Amy’s and Sarah’s
opinions of each of her selections, sometimes offering a choice
between two or three fabrics; when this happened, Amy insisted that
Sarah choose for her, not trusting herself to make a proper job of
it. If she had been able to find a price tag on any of the fabrics
her choice would have been made easy, but none of them seemed to
carry any indication of their cost. Amy decided that they must all
be worryingly expensive.

Even her so-called tea gowns, which, as
Sarah had to explain to her, were intended for casual wear around
the house, were to be silk; one in pale mauve, and the other a
light green with white flowers. The fabrics chosen for the walking
costumes were both of wool, but it was woollen fabric of a finer
quality than Amy had ever worn, one rust-coloured and the other
pale grey. Her gowns for visiting were to be silk as well, a heavy
bronze satin for one and a dark green taffeta for the other. A
silvery-grey woollen cloak would go with the walking costumes as
well as the visiting gowns.

Mrs Stevenson spread out engravings from
magazines on a table for Amy to study the dresses illustrated.
‘Which styles appeal most?’ she asked, but Amy shook her head
helplessly.

‘They’re all lovely. My head just goes round
and round when I try and pick one. I don’t know which ones would go
with which material,’ she added, casting an awed glance at the
growing pile of fabrics chosen for her.

‘It’s up to you again, Mrs Stevenson,’ said
Sarah. ‘What do you suggest?’

‘Well, I do think that simple styles might
be best, with Mrs Stewart not being very tall. What about something
like this for the mauve?’ she asked, turning unerringly to the
correct page of a particular magazine.

They went through the whole range of Amy’s
day dresses, and Amy gradually gained the confidence to make some
selections of her own when offered a choice of styles.

‘Those should all be most satisfactory,’
Sarah said when they had decided on the last of them. ‘Shall we go
on to the evening dresses now?’

‘We do need to choose the trims for these
dresses as well,’ said Mrs Stevenson. ‘Perhaps we should do that
first? I thought this lace would be perfect with the green and
white gown.’

Amy felt pleasantly wearied from helping
choose the styles, and she let the trims be chosen for her, taking
pleasure enough in handling the frothy laces placed before her and
admiring the soft colours of the braids. The room seemed something
a genie had conjured up in answer to a girl’s wish for magically
beautiful clothes, and Amy would not have been completely
astonished if the whole scene had vanished to be replaced by her
own plain little parlour.

‘Oh, Amy, you must show Mrs Stevenson your
blue dress,’ Sarah said. ‘I suggested to Mrs Stewart that she might
like to have one of her dresses remodelled,’ she explained to the
dressmaker. ‘It’s several years old, but perhaps worth
keeping.’

‘It’s too good to throw away,’ Amy said,
carefully unwrapping the neat parcel of tissue paper the maids had
fashioned around the dress. ‘I know it’s old-fashioned,
though.’

Mrs Stevenson spread the dress out on a
table and examined it. ‘It’s good quality fabric. Quite well made,
too. Yes, I think I could make something of this. Does it fit you
comfortably, Mrs Stewart? It’s a very close-fitting style.’

‘I let it out a little bit a few years ago.
I’ve had it since I was fifteen, and it was snug on me even
then.’

‘Yes, the styles were tighter in the bodice
when this was made. Now, perhaps if I were to add a panel in the
front, and side panels to the skirt… here, I’ll show you what I
mean.’

She took up a sheet of paper and sketched
rapidly, showing a full-bodiced dress with a patterned panel down
the centre of the bodice, and matching panels on either side of the
skirt. ‘This pale blue silk overlaid with this lace would be rather
pretty,’ she said, placing the fabric and lace beside Amy’s dress.
‘I’ll have to alter the neckline, of course, but if I add a wide
frill like this, in the same lace, it would look as though it had
been intended that way. I’d remove this organdie frill at the
hem—in fact I could change the lower edge completely, if I add a
row of tiny pleats and a scooped frill. Like this, perhaps.’

She sketched more details, showing a
transformed hemline. ‘The sleeves aren’t quite right, being so
narrow, but the neckline frill will conceal that fairly well, and
I’ll add these frills at the cuffs.’ Her pencil again moved
rapidly. ‘Yes, that should look rather nice,’ she said in evident
satisfaction, passing the drawing over to Amy.

‘That’s beautiful,’ Amy said, awed by the
woman’s skill. ‘That’ll be the nicest dress I’ve ever had.’

Sarah squeezed her arm. ‘They all will be,
dear.’

Amy had thought the day dresses wonderful
enough; when they came to her evening gowns, it was harder than
ever to believe that such dresses could really be intended for her.
A selection of the finest of all Mrs Stevenson’s fabrics was spread
out for Amy’s consideration; silks and velvets and laces, and the
most elaborate of trims.

‘Black?’ Sarah said, frowning in surprise at
the first of Mrs Stevenson’s suggestions, a heavy black satin that
slid like water through Amy’s fingers. Where the light caught it,
the fabric gave back the impression of a shimmer of moonlight on a
midnight ocean. ‘I’m not sure about the colour.’

‘Well, it’s up to you, Miss Millish—and you,
of course, Mrs Stewart. But for a mature woman there’s no colour
more elegant than black. It’s certainly not confined to mourning
clothes. Especially when decorated—like this, say.’ She scattered a
handful of tiny, silvery beads over the black fabric, and Amy
gasped at the effect they made. ‘Imagine the bodice embroidered all
over with these. Hardly sombre, is it?’ Mrs Stevenson asked, the
barest hint of a challenge in her voice.

Sarah studied Amy’s expression at the sight
of the beads sparkling against the fabric, and she smiled. ‘How can
I possibly say no? Very well, Mrs Stevenson, it seems that you’re
the best judge.’

Amy was coaxed away from the black satin to
give her opinion on a midnight blue velvet.

‘This drapes beautifully.’ Mrs Stevenson
illustrated her point by draping the fabric around Amy. It fell in
soft folds, seeming to want to mould itself to Amy’s form, and the
silver lace Mrs Stevenson held against it enhanced the graceful
effect. ‘Do you think it’s suitable?’

‘Quite definitely,’ said Sarah. ‘It’s just
right.’

Mrs Stevenson looked over at her bolts of
fabric. ‘We were thinking of three evening gowns, weren’t we?’

Amy dragged herself away from wide-eyed
study of her dress fabrics to snatch at the chance of sparing Sarah
some expense. ‘Two’s enough—really it is, Sarah, I can hardly
imagine even having one lovely dress like this. Anyway, I think I’d
just about faint if Mrs Stevenson shows me any more lovely
materials like these.’

‘Well, I suppose we could leave the third
till another day,’ Sarah allowed. ‘It might be more fun for you
that way.’

‘Just as you wish, of course,’ said Mrs
Stevenson. ‘And we definitely don’t want any bright colours?’ she
added, an oddly cautious tone to her voice.

‘No, I really don’t,’ said Amy.

Sarah was studying Mrs Stevenson’s
expression with interest. ‘Why do you ask, Mrs Stevenson?’

‘Oh, it’s just the fabric I was speaking of
earlier. I’m certain it would look quite stunning on Mrs Stewart.
It would do no harm just to look, would it?’

‘No harm at all,’ Sarah said, the hint of a
smile hovering around her mouth.

Mrs Stevenson picked up a bolt of fabric and
unrolled a long length, which she draped around Amy. It was velvet,
a little heavier than Amy’s midnight blue, but still soft enough to
fall beautifully into folds.

The colour was a red so rich that Amy could
not find a name for it; ‘crimson’ seemed woefully inadequate for a
shade that seemed to pulse with life. It was the red of a fruit so
tempting that the sternest of ascetics would scarcely have found
strength to refuse it. The velvet cried out to be stroked, and when
Amy gave in to its cry she found it as soft as kitten’s fur. It
looked beautiful enough from where Amy stood, looking down at the
fabric enveloping her body; if she had been able to see herself,
pale skin and dark hair set off to perfection by the jewel-like
richness, she would not have wondered at the expressions of the two
women staring at her.

‘That really is lovely,’ said Mrs
Stevenson.

‘Oh, yes,’ Sarah agreed softly. ‘That’s
perfect.’

Amy felt that she was breaking a spell when
she freed herself from the fabric. ‘No, I’m sorry, I really
couldn’t. Not red.’

Sarah said nothing, but Amy had a fleeting
impression of the two taller women exchanging a nod over her head.
And the red velvet, though Mrs Stevenson put it to one side, was
not returned to its shelf.

‘Mrs Stewart will need several hats to go
with the outfits we’ve planned today, of course,’ Sarah said when
styles for Amy’s two evening gowns had been chosen. ‘I’ve always
found your milliners quite satisfactory, Mrs Stevenson. Do you have
any particular ideas, Amy?’

Amy knew it would be pointless to try and
say that she really did not need more than one or two hats. She was
equally sure that her own grasp of what was fashionable was vague
at best. ‘Not really. Except… well, I know those great big hats are
in the fashion, I’ve seen lots of women wearing them. But I don’t
know if I could. I mean, I’m so little, I think I’d look like a
mushroom in a hat like that.’

Sarah laughed aloud at the notion. ‘A very
pretty mushroom you’d make, too! But you’re probably right, dear,
you are a bit small for those hats. A gust of wind might carry you
away.’

‘Hats should be in proportion to the
wearer,’ Mrs Stevenson said. ‘And it’s perfectly possible to have
fashionable hats that aren’t particularly large. It’s simply a
matter of style and trimmings. I’ll show you a few to give you some
ideas.’

Mrs Stevenson rang for her assistant, and
sent the girl off to fetch a selection of hats. Amy was relieved to
be shown a dozen, all of them pretty, and none of them
frighteningly large. ‘Oh, yes, I could wear any of these. They’re
all lovely.’

‘I’m sure Mrs Stevenson’s milliners will
produce a nice collection,’ said Sarah. ‘Now, Amy, do you want to
show Mrs Stevenson your hat? Don’t if you’d rather not,’ she added
gently.

Amy’s hand reached out to rest protectively
on the hat box at her feet. ‘I know it’s old,’ she said, aware of
the defensive note in her voice. ‘But it was a really smart hat, I
know it was. It cost an awful lot of money, too.’ She hesitated,
then decided to be brave. ‘I’ll show it to you.’

‘This is a rather special hat,’ Sarah
explained while Amy got it out of the box. ‘Mrs Stewart’s late
father bought it for her many years ago. I suggested she might like
to consider having it remodelled, so that she could get a little
more use out of it.’

Amy clutched at the hat. ‘But I don’t want
it cut up or anything. I’d sooner not wear it if it’s too
old-fashioned. I’d rather just keep it how it is.’

‘May I?’ Mrs Stevenson reached out a hand.
‘I’d like to see it.’

Amy made herself hold the hat out, and tried
to take some relief from the obvious respect with which Mrs
Stevenson handled it.

‘Oh, yes,’ Mrs Stevenson said as she
examined the hat. ‘Yes, this is a fine piece of workmanship—it’s
extremely well-made, and of the best quality materials, too.’ She
looked up, and smiled at Amy. ‘I don’t think there’s any need to be
cutting into it, Mrs Stewart. I could simply add some extra
trimmings. Some pretty blue chiffon around the edge, perhaps, to
give it more width—that would give the hat a more up-to-date
appearance without damaging it. A little veiling, too, that’s
always flattering. You want to keep the feather trim, I
presume?’

‘Yes,’ Amy said. ‘I want to keep
everything.’

‘But do you think those alterations would be
all right, dear?’ Sarah asked. ‘It would be nice if you could
actually wear the hat, wouldn’t it?’

Amy paused to consider the matter properly.
She was aware that to the other two women her attachment to the hat
might seem foolish, but she was not going to let that sway her. The
hat was a link with her father, and she could not bear to have it
mutilated. ‘I think that sounds quite nice,’ she said at last. ‘As
long as you only add those things to it. Don’t take anything
away.’

Mrs Stevenson assured Amy that she would,
indeed, take nothing away from the hat, and on the strength of that
Amy agreed to leave it behind for the proposed retrimming.

‘That was rather a marathon, wasn’t it?’
Sarah said when the two of them were on the footpath outside Mrs
Stevenson’s. The coachman was moving the carriage from a short
distance down the road where he had been allowing the horses to
graze a grassy verge. ‘I’d better take you straight home, you must
be exhausted.’

Now that she was away from them, the spell
of the gorgeous fabrics was relaxing its grip on Amy, allowing
something of cold reality to take its place. ‘Sarah, all those
dresses!’ she said in sudden alarm. ‘They must be going to cost an
awful lot of money. I really don’t need all those, you know. You
could tell Mrs Stevenson not to make so many, couldn’t you?’

‘There’s no need for that.’

‘But all that material! It looked so
expensive. Perhaps you’d better—’

‘Amy,’ Sarah interrupted. ‘Walk over here a
little, I want to show you something. We’ll be with you in a
moment, Jenson,’ she called to the patiently waiting coachman, who
tipped his hat in acknowledgment. Now, Amy, do you see that
building over there?’ She indicated a busier part of the
street.

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