MADAME GENEVIEVE

Excerpt from The Seamstress Secret by Vanessa Lind (copyright 2024)

Sequestered within her seamstress shop, Genevieve Fontaine peeked out through a slender gap between the thick velvet curtains drawn over the shop’s big plate-glass window. On a normal day, women would slow their steps to peer from the outside in, admiring Madame Genevieve’s latest creations, mounted on dress forms. Only last week, an elegant evening dress had caught their eye, its sleeves belling slightly in the latest fashion. Now, the dress was gone, and with it, the dress form. The shop’s interior was dark and empty.

The shop’s vacant gloom was a far cry from the vibrant scene beyond Madam Genevieve’s window. Spring was in the air, warm and full of promise, signaling an end to a long, rainy winter. The late afternoon sun shone so brightly that even the carriages clattering along the downtown street seemed to glow. Alongside the carriages, a trolley car passed, bell clanging. On one street corner, a newsboy called out the latest headlines. At another, a flower cart vendor hawked bouquets of lilacs, tulips, and daffodils. An ordinary spring day, except that for Genevieve, it wasn’t.

She scanned the faces of the people passing before her shuttered shop, men with tidy mustaches and bowler hats, women dressed in ways that with her practiced eye she could both name and replicate. A long day-dress bodice, its edges turned back, revealing its undersurface. A tall, upstanding collar. Skirts with a draped apron effect. Skirts that opened to display an underskirt. Skirts with and without horizontal scarves. She’d made it her business to know every turn of fashion, every style coming out of Paris.

Today, she saw no one resembling him. But he had been there. There was no question in her mind. Been there on her street, staring in at her through this very window with a steely gaze she remembered all too well. After all these years, she was certain he’d recognized her too.

Strolling arm in arm past Madame Genevieve’s dress shop, a pair of women slowed their steps. The younger of the two pointed to the door, where Genevieve had hung the sign saying that her shop was closing for good, with appreciation to her loyal patrons who over the years had made this the city’s premier dress shop.

The older woman, a regular customer who Genevieve knew to be a councilman’s wife, shook her head in apparent disbelief. Though Genevieve couldn’t hear the words the women exchanged, she could well imagine them. After all this time, to close up so suddenly, when she’s the most successful seamstress in Portland. Why? No one has a clue. Taken ill, perhaps. Or summoned back to France. The question is, where shall we have our frocks made now? 

She stepped back from the window, pulling the curtains tight, shutting out the faintest sliver of sunlight. She could not risk being seen, could not risk their questions. Though it broke her heart to turn her back on the business she’d built from scratch by the work of her own hands, there was no help for it.

In truth, she’d always known this day might come, though she’d done her best to push the thought from her mind. How quickly a person’s life’s work could be undone. Fixtures dismantled. Fabrics and projects parceled out to competitors. The upstairs apartment, the home she’d enjoyed longer than any other, cleared of its furnishings.

She would spend one final, restless night attempting to sleep on the bedding wadded in the far corner of the shop. Sleep with one eye open in case he returned before she got away.

She’d remade herself before. She could do it again.

from The Seamstress Secret: Book Four of The Tidewater Chronicles

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