Authors: Katherine Woodfine
First published in Great Britain 2015
by Egmont UK Limited
The Yellow Building, 1 Nicholas Road, London W11 4AN
Text copyright © 2015 Katherine Woodfine
Illustrations © 2015 Júlia Sardà
The moral rights of the author and illustrator have been asserted
First e-book edition 2015
ISBN 978 1 4052 7617 7
Ebook ISBN 978 1 7803 1683 3
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library
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To Mama and OD,
with much love
This dainty straw hat with a ribbon bow is the essence of charming simplicity. Becoming to every face shape, it is a practical everyday choice for the young working lady . . .
ophie hung on tightly to the leather strap as the omnibus rattled forwards. Another Monday morning and, all about her, London was whirring into life: damp and steamy with last night’s rain and this morning’s smoke. As she stood wedged between a couple of clerks wearing bowler hats and carrying newspapers, she gazed out of the window at the grey street, wondering whether that faint fragrance of spring she’d caught on the wind had been just her imagination. She found herself thinking about the garden of Orchard House: the daffodils that must be blooming there now, the damp earth and the smell of rain in the grass.
‘Piccadilly Circus!’ yelled the conductor as the omnibus clattered to a halt, and Sophie pushed her thoughts away. She straightened her hat, grasped her umbrella in a neatly gloved hand, and slipped between the clerks and past an elderly lady wearing a
, who said ‘Dear me!’ as if quite scandalised at the sight of a young lady alone, recklessly jumping on and off omnibuses. Sophie paid no attention and hopped down on to the pavement. There was simply no sense in listening. After all, she wasn’t that sort of young lady any more.
As the omnibus drew away, she turned and gazed for a moment at the enormous white building that towered above her. Sinclair’s department store was so new that, as yet, it had not even opened its doors to customers. But already it was the most famous store in London – and therefore, some said, the whole world. With its magnificent columns and ranks of coloured flags, it wasn’t like any other shop Sophie had ever seen. It was more like a classical temple that had sprung up, white and immaculate against the smog and dirt of Piccadilly. The huge plate-glass windows were shrouded with royal-blue silk curtains, making it look like the stage in a grand theatre before the performance has begun.
The owner of Sinclair’s department store was Mr Edward Sinclair, who was as famous as the store itself. He was an American, a self-made man, renowned for his elegance, for the single, perfect orchid he always wore in his buttonhole, for the ever-changing string of beautiful ladies on his arm and, most of all, for his wealth. Although they had only been working for him for a few weeks, and most of them had barely set eyes on him, the staff of Sinclair’s had taken to referring to him as ‘the Captain’, because rumour had it that he had run away to sea in his youth. There were already a great number of rumours about Edward Sinclair. But whether the stories were true or not, it seemed an apt nickname. After all, the store itself was a little like a ship: as glittering and luxurious as an ocean liner ready to carry its customers proudly on a journey to an exotic new land.
Somewhere, Sophie could hear a clock chiming. Drawing herself up to her full height – which wasn’t very tall – she lifted her chin and set off smartly round the side of the great building, the little heels of her buttoned boots clicking briskly over the cobbles. As she approached, her heart began to thump, and she put up a hand to check that her hat, with its blue-ribbon bow, was still at exactly the right angle, and that her hair was not coming down. She was part of Sinclair’s department store now: a small cog in this great machine. As such, she knew she must be nothing short of perfect.
Through the doors was another world. The staff corridors were humming with activity. All about her, people were hurrying along carrying palms in pots, or stepladders and tins of paint, or stacks of the distinctive royal-blue and gold Sinclair’s boxes. A smart saleswoman whisked by with an exquisitely beaded evening gown draped carefully over her arm; another hustled along with an armful of parasols, seemingly in a terrific rush; and the strict store manager, Mr Cooper, could be seen dressing down a salesman about the condition of his gloves. Sophie dived in among them and then slipped into the empty cloakroom to take off her coat and hat.
It still seemed extraordinary that she was here at all. Even a year ago, the thought of earning her own living would never have entered her imagination – and now, here she was, a fully fledged shop girl. She paused for a moment before the cloakroom looking-glass to survey her hair, and pushed a hairpin back into place. Mr Cooper was a stickler for immaculate personal appearances, but worse than that, she knew that Edith and the other girls would be only too quick to notice any shortcomings. Once upon a time she had been rather vain about her looks, carefully brushing her hair one hundred times each night and fussing Miss Pennyfeather to tie her velvet ribbon in exactly the right sort of bow, but now she only wanted to look neat and businesslike. She didn’t feel in the least like the girl she had been back then. Her face in the looking glass was familiar, but strange: she looked older somehow, pale and tired and out of sorts.
Her shoulders slumped as she thought of the long week that lay ahead of her, but at once she frowned at herself sharply. Papa would have said that she ought to be thinking about how fortunate she was to be here. There were plenty of others who weren’t so lucky, she reminded herself. She had seen them: girls her own age or even younger, selling apples or little posies of flowers on street corners; girls begging for pennies from passing gentlemen; girls huddled in doorways, wearing clothes that were scarcely more than rags.
Thinking this, she shook her head, squared her shoulders and forced herself to smile. ‘Buck up,’ she told her reflection sternly. Whatever else happened today, she was determined that she wouldn’t give Edith any more excuses to call her stuck-up.