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The Dressmaker

Cover of The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker

Tess, an aspiring seamstress, thinks she's had an incredibly lucky break when she is hired by famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon to be her personal maid on theTitanic. Once on board, Tess catches the eye of two men--a kind sailor and an enigmatic Chicago businessman--who offer differing views of what lies ahead for her in America. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes, and amidst the chaos, Tess is one of the last people allowed on a lifeboat.

The survivors are rescued and taken to New York, but when rumors begin to circulate about the choices they made, Tess is forced to confront a serious question. Did Lady Duff Gordon save herself at the expense of others? Torn between loyalty to Lucile and her growing suspicion that the media's charges might be true, Tess must decide whether to stay quiet and keep her fiery mentor's good will or face what might be true and forever change her future.

Tess, an aspiring seamstress, thinks she's had an incredibly lucky break when she is hired by famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon to be her personal maid on theTitanic. Once on board, Tess catches the eye of two men--a kind sailor and an enigmatic Chicago businessman--who offer differing views of what lies ahead for her in America. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes, and amidst the chaos, Tess is one of the last people allowed on a lifeboat.

The survivors are rescued and taken to New York, but when rumors begin to circulate about the choices they made, Tess is forced to confront a serious question. Did Lady Duff Gordon save herself at the expense of others? Torn between loyalty to Lucile and her growing suspicion that the media's charges might be true, Tess must decide whether to stay quiet and keep her fiery mentor's good will or face what might be true and forever change her future.

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  • Chapter One

    cherbourg, france april 10, 1912

    Tess pulled at the corners of the sheets she had taken straight from the line and tried to tuck them tight under the mattress, stepping back to check her work. Still a bit bunchy and wrinkled. The overseer who ran this house was sure to inspect and sniff and scold, but it didn't matter anymore.

    She glanced out the window. A woman was walking by, wearing a splendid hat topped with a rich, deep-­green ribbon, twirling a bright-­red parasol, her face lively, her demeanor confident and sunny. Tess tried to imagine herself stepping forward so confidently without someone accusing her of behaving above her station. She could almost feel her fingers curling around the smooth, polished handle of that parasol. Where was the woman going?

    She gazed back at the half-­made bed. No more fantasizing, not one more minute of it.

    She walked out into the central hall and stopped, held in place by the sight of her reflection in the full-­length gilded mirror at the end of the hall. Her long dark hair, as always, had pulled out of a carelessly pinned bun, even as the upward tilt of her chin, which had so often registered boldness, remained in place. But there was no denying the shameful crux of what she saw: a skinny young girl wearing a black dress and a white apron and carrying a pile of dirty linens, with a servant's cap sitting squarely and stupidly on the top of her head. An image of servitude. She yanked the cap off her head and hurled it at the glass. She was not a servant. She was a seamstress, a good one, and she should be paid for her work. She had been tricked into this job.

    Tess dumped the soiled linens down the laundry chute and climbed the stairs to her third-­floor room, untying her apron as she went. Today, yes. No further hesitation. There were jobs available, the dockworkers had said, on that huge ship sailing for New York today. She scanned the small room. No valise--­the mistress would stop her cold at the door if she knew she was leaving. The picture of her mother, yes. The money. Her sketchbook, with all her designs. She took off her uniform, put on her best dress, and stuffed some undergarments, stockings, and her only other dress into a canvas sack. She stared at the half-­finished ball gown draped over the sewing machine, at the tiny bows of crushed white velvet she had so painstakingly stitched onto the ballooning blue silk. Someone else would have to finish it, someone who actually got paid. What else? Nothing.

    She took a deep breath, trying to resist the echo of her father's voice in her head: Don't put on airs, he always scolded. You're a farm girl, do your job, keep your head down. You get decent enough pay; mind you don't wreck your life with defiance.

    "I won't wreck it," she whispered out loud. "I'll make it better."

    But, even as she turned and left her room for the last time, she could almost hear his voice following her, as raspy and angry as ever: "Watch out, foolish girl."

    The rotting wood planks beneath Lucile's feet were spongy, catching her boot heels as she made her way through the crowd on the Cherbourg dock. She pulled her silver-­fox stole snugly around her neck, luxuriating in the plush softness of the thick fur, and lifted her head high, attracting many glances, some triggered by the sight of her brilliantly red hair, others by the knowledge of who she was.

    She glanced at her sister walking quickly toward her, humming some new song, twirling a red parasol as she walked. "You do enjoy playing the blithe spirit, don't you?" she said.

    "I try to be an agreeable person," her sister murmured.

    "I have no need to...

About the Author-
  • KATE ALCOTT was a reporter covering politics in Washington D.C., where she and her husband still live



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