Here is a sneak peak of my book, The Dressmaker’s Secret, which will be published in early 2016.
Note: though this prologue is pretty polished, there are probably a few mistakes that will be corrected by the final draft. 🙂
“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” -Psalms 139:16.
Somewhere amongst the moors of Yorkshire, a tall, stately, but gloomy and terrifying mansion loomed up against the sky. It was Starboard, the old Chattoway estate.
Through dusty halls and up creaking staircases, there was a beautiful bedroom, a haven in a house full of morbidity. In the flickering firelight, the sky blue walls and white trim were given an orange tinge. Amongst the other pieces of furniture, the largest was a big, four poster bed with thick, dark blue curtains around it. The curtains to the right were drawn aside.
There lay a girl, looking unhealthily pale against the white sheets. Her golden hair fell limply over the pillow, her blue eyes, dull and lifeless, were shut behind closed eyelids. Her long, dark lashes touched her pale cheeks and her critically arched eyebrows seemed a deeper hue than usual against the pallor of her face.
Another girl about the same age sat next to the grate where a minuscule fire smoldered. She adjusted the shawl which hung about her shoulders and unwound the ball of yarn which led to the small blanket she was knitting energetically as she slowly rocked her chair back and forth in a slow, continual motion. As she rocked, she prayed, not knowing what else to do to aid her best friend’s situation.
There was a loud knock at the door, startling both the girls.
Nettie, the one who had been knitting, slowly rose from her seat, set aside her work, and walked to the door. She unlocked and opened it an inch, using her body to block the opening in case whoever was outside might have any ideas about coming in.
“It’s just me, Nettie,” said Mrs. Atwater, smiling. Mrs. Atwater, Nettie’s mother, was a rather large woman with graying light brown hair, happy gray eyes, and cherry-red lips capable of curling into broad, happy smiles. She wore a white apron over her light blue dress. The strings were stretched tight as they tried to surround her ample form and her chubby face was glowing from walking up the stairs and down the long, cold halls at a brisk pace. She carried a tray which held a bowl with contents emitting a tempting fragrance and a plate containing several simple – but delicious – food items.
Nettie stood aside to let the older woman in.
“You’re awake, Miss Claire?”
Miss Claire Marie Chattoway, the girl who had been sleeping, nodded. After a minute, she whispered, in a tired voice, “Yes.”
“I brought something for your dinner, Miss Claire,” Mrs. Atwater continued in a cheerful tone. “Something to tempt your appetite. It’s not good for you not to eat. You might hurt yourself.”
“I’m not hungry,” Miss Chattoway said, quietly. “Please … won’t you just leave me alone?”
Nettie gave Mrs. Atwater a worried look. She set the tray on a nearby table, took Nettie’s hand, and led the young woman into a corner of the room. There, they held a whispered consultation.
“She hasn’t eaten enough to keep a mouse satisfied since we got back,” Nettie whimpered. “I’m afraid. What if she kills herself? She just doesn’t want to live. What should I do?”
“She has hope. She’s not completely despondent,” Mrs. Atwater replied. “She’ll be fine … just give her time.”
“But it’s been nearly six months and she hasn’t even smiled!”
“Well, do you expect her to?” Mrs. Atwater asked. “She hasn’t had much to smile about, Nettie. But she has a lot of life ahead of her. Let me see … she’ll be eighteen this December.”
“Yes, right before … you know,” she said, significantly.
“Yes, I know,” Mrs. Atwater replied, smiling weakly. “Poor creature!”
“You know that if she leaves Starboard, I will go with her,” Nettie said seriously.
“Yes, of course. You’re her handmaiden and her friend and as close to her as a sister. I’d like to see anyone pry you away from her!” Mrs. Atwater laughed. “She loves you Nettie, as she loves her sister and her brother. She hasn’t had all that many people to love.”
“Of all the people in the world, why did she pick me as her special friend? Have me educated with her?” Nettie wondered with an affectionate glance at her mistress.
“Because you’re intelligent,” Mrs. Atwater replied, proudly. “Besides, you listen well. If there’s anything Miss Claire needs, it’s someone who will listen well.”
Miss Chattoway, who had been lying listlessly back in the bed and watching the two whisper about her, suddenly sat up with a slight gasp. “Nettie!” she cried in a trembling voice.
“Claire, what is it?” Nettie asked anxiously, rushing to the bedside.
Instead of responding, Miss Chattoway leaned back against the pillows again.
“Claire, you called for me,” Nettie reminded gently.
“I know. I was startled,” Miss Chattoway said.
“And … you were startled by …?” Nettie hinted.
“Nothing, really,” Miss Chattoway muttered. “Give me your hand.”
“But I might use it later,” Nettie protested, smiling.
“Give me your hand if you wish to remain employed!”
“I don’t get paid.”
“Food and board.”
Nettie offered her hand to her friend silently and Miss Chattoway guided Nettie’s hand to her midsection.
“Do you feel that?” she whispered, almost afraid that she was imagining things.
“Yes, I do,” Nettie said, grinning from ear to ear. “Oh, Claire, it’s such a miracle, isn’t it?”
“I suppose so,” said Miss Chattoway, trying to keep her eyes from sparkling but not succeeding very well. “My baby! My baby inside me; alive and moving! I can’t believe it!” she thought, hushed from reverence.
A slow smile crept onto Nettie’s face, chasing away the shadows cast by worry from her countenance. She knew just what was going to bring light back into Miss Claire Marie Chattoway’s life.
Well? What do you think?!