Now a beautiful twenty years old young woman, Louisa Tavistock’s womanly figure, striking features and lustrous blonde locks elicited lingering looks from those men who accompanied their women-folk on their clothes-buying shopping trips. If she was aware of the effect she had on the blood pressures of her male admirers she gave no indication whatsoever. Louisa was fully focussed on one thing only: giving the very best service to her customers and employer alike, the very thing she had promised to do on the first day she had walked through those imposing double doors all that time ago. She had told Dorothy Evans that she would work hard and that is exactly what she did every day.
When Marilyn Penney, over coffee one day, asked Louisa why she refused all the invitations various men – not all of them in a position to be making such invites – to join them for drinks, a meal, a night at the theatre, Louisa had been sorely tempted to confide in her best friend all that had befallen her at the hands of her murderer uncle. However, she stayed her tongue, even now unwilling to verbalise the horrors of what she had endured and laughed it off by telling Marilyn that she as far too busy with her wonderful job.
“I can never thank you enough for allowing me to take over what should have been your position,” she told her friend, not for the first time.
“Oh, phooey, you!” Marilyn chided affectionately. “You were surely born to that job, sweetie. Honestly, if I had been there we would still have been doing the same old boring stuff, just like my predecessor did and the one before her.”
“You are too kind, really you are.” Louisa demurred.
“Kindness has nothing to do with it, Louisa Tavistock!” Marilyn laughed. “What you are is the future. You are shaking up the couture business with your ideas.”
Oh, stop! You’re embarrassing me, now!” Louisa cried, her pretty face blushing beet-red.
“I will do no such thing, madam. You must surely have heard that Christina’s of London and The Milan Connection are going to copy your idea?” Marilyn said, grasping her friend’s hand tightly. “They are copying you, Louisa, because you are making things happen that have never happened before. You are important, darling!”
“Oh please don’t say that. That is surely untrue. I’m just and ordinary girl with some new ideas, that’s all.” Louisa told her friend earnestly, flustered by the passion and intensity Marilyn’s words. “Really, if I had not thought of it, someone else would have, I’m certain.”
“Maybe, maybe not, but your name is the one on people’s lips. Everybody is talking about Louisa Tavistock. You really should be very proud of yourself and what you have achieved, you know, considering…”
Louisa knew that her friend meant well and that she was genuinely pleased for her and proud of what she had managed to achieve in light of where she had come from and the path she had had to travel to arrive at her current status. However, Marilyn had no idea that all the attention being lavished on her friend was actually unsettling her in a way she had not been disturbed since she had fled her aunt and uncle’s home.
If she had been pressed to articulate what she was feeling Louisa would have said that she was scared. Of what she didn’t know, but fear sat in her heart and if she could have done so, she would have undone everything that had brought the unwanted attention to her.
She smiled reassuringly at Marilyn and, to change the subject away from herself, enquired after her children, a topic on which Marilyn was more than happy to talk about at length. Once Marilyn was in full flow, Louisa began to relax again, lost in the alien world of nappies, rashes, sickliness and minor developmental and academic achievements. She smiled and laughed often and the afternoon slipped away pleasurably.
Later, in her room at the Connolly sisters’ house, the same room she had lived in since fleeing the horrors of Mary MacAllister’s hovel, Louisa was feeling a little restless and out-of-sorts. Try as she might, she could not overcome her discomfort of being so much in the minds and her name on the tongues of people she did not know. It did not feel right to the young woman somehow. She attempted to calm her troubled mind by indulging her new-found passion for the works of the author Thomas Hardy. Tess of the D’Urberville’s and her problems soon made Louisa’s eyes tired and she gratefully retired to her bed much earlier than was her custom.
A fitful night’s sleep saw Louisa awaken to a morning that seemed to reflect her sombre mood from the previous day. However, as the sun will sometimes unexpectedly burst into brilliance in a cloud-filled sky, new sunlight was about to take Louisa into a new phase of her life. It all began shortly after she arrived at the Deschamps du Paris to begin work for the day…
“They told me you were pretty, but they did you a grave disservice”. The voice was warm, soft, cultured and carried a slight hint of amusement. “Really, child, you are the most beautiful creature!” the lady exclaimed.
Taken aback at the unexpected and fulsome praise, Louisa Tavistock blushed prettily and forced her lips into an approximation of a smile.
Impeccably dressed in an outfit that Louisa recognised as bought from the store Lady Adeline Courtenay-Hooper was herself a beautiful woman. The twenty-two years old daughter of a wealthy industrialist and sole heir to a fortune estimated to be of several millions of pounds had the sort of figure that was all the rage: tall, very slim, and small breasted. Soft brown eyes looked intelligently from a perfectly proportioned face. Lady Adeline, as she insisted upon being addressed, wore the latest ‘bob’ hairstyle, her dark hair shining healthily atop her head.
“I have heard great things about you, Louisa,” she told the bemused young woman.
“Thank you, Lady Adeline.” Louisa answered politely. “Is there anything I can help you with today? Would you like me to call one of the girls to…” She tailed off as Lady Adeline shook her head in the negative.
“No, thank you, Louisa. I am fine. It is you I have come to see; to speak to, actually.” Lady Adeline said, dropping her voice to a conspiratorial whisper even though there was nobody else within earshot. “I need to speak to you about something I think is quite exciting!” she added with a toothy grin.
“Well, I…, um…” Louisa stumbled.
“Oh, you silly thing!” Lady Adeline giggled in a charming girlish fashion. “There is no need for you to get yourself flustered.” She giggled again which served to sooth Louisa’s nervousness a little.
“I would like to invite you dinner with me at my place, say Thursday evening?” Lady Adeline said.
“Dinner? Me?” Louisa could not have been more astounded if she had just received a proposal of marriage. Never in her life had she been invited to dinner anywhere, let alone at the home of such a high-class lady like Adeline Courtenay-Hooper.
“Well, I…” Lost for words she stood and gaped, her mouth working but not making intelligible sounds.
“Please say you will come, Louisa. I am so looking forward to talking to you.” Lady Adeline pleaded.
Louisa finally found her voice again.
“Why, yes, of course. Thank you so much. That’s very kind of you.” She burbled.
“Oh, Louisa, I am so delighted!” Lady Adeline squealed excitedly, grasping Louisa’s hands into hers and holding them as she said that she would send her driver, Jenks, to collect her from her home.
“Are you still with those lovely old ladies, the Connolly sisters?” she asked.
If she was surprised that Lady Adeline knew all about her living arrangements Louisa was careful to not let it show… at least that’s what she thought she had done.
“Daddy and Marcel Deschamps belong to the same Club, darling,” Lady Adeline told Louisa. “I asked him to ask Mr. Deschamps to find out where you live. I’m sorry.”
“No, that’s fine. Thank you. You are very kind,” a still slightly stunned and shaken Louisa said absently.
Releasing Louisa’s hands Lady Adeline told her that Jenks would collect her at seven-thirty on Thursday evening and deposit her back home at a ‘ladylike’ time of evening, whatever that meant. Turning on her heel with a cheery wave Lady Adeline Courtenay-Hooper exited the store, leaving a somewhat puzzled Louisa to mull over their conversation.
The younger girls were agog, having either contrived to ‘overhear’ the conversation or having been told of its content by those who did hear. For that entire working day Louisa felt distinctly uncomfortable being the centre of unwanted and, in her opinion, unwarranted, attention. She was relieved to lock the doors at the end of the day and bring the day to a close.
To be continued...