Home > Hattie Glover's Millinery (The Providence Street Shops #1)

Hattie Glover's Millinery (The Providence Street Shops #1)
Author: Bonnie Dee

Chapter One

 

 

London, Spring 1907

“Votes for women! It is our right!” the shouts of the suffragettes marching down Providence Street toward the park were muted yet audible inside Hattie’s shop. She watched the women through the display window beyond a line of severed heads sporting elaborately plumed, flowered, and beribboned hats. The march had stalled due to some bottleneck ahead. She prayed it was not the police come to break up the demonstration.

Her motive in hoping so was not as altruistic as Hattie would have liked. As much as she admired and supported the women’s cause, she was more concerned about having a riot immediately outside her place of business. Windows might be broken. Customers would definitely be put off.

Even as she thought this, a pair of ladies dressed in stylish day dresses and light linen dusters stopped on the sidewalk to stare at the protesters. They leaned together in whispered conference, their broad-brimmed picture hats keeping them a good three feet apart. The purple-dyed ostrich feathers on the taller woman’s hat seemed to quiver in indignation. A moment later, the pair turned heel and retreated in the direction from whence they’d come.

“Blast!” Hattie muttered.

“What’s that?” Rose called from the glass display case of gloves she was replenishing. “Did you need me, Mrs. Glover?”

“Nothing, dear. Merely noting that our coffers are languishing with every second the marchers linger at our doorstep.”

“But, Mrs. Glover, don’t you find the suffragettes courageous and daring? I should love to stand with them to hear Mrs. Pankhurst or any other leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union speak.” Rose came to join her employer at the window. “Surely you agree that we women deserve a say in government.”

“I do. But I don’t want history to be made right outside my millinery. Violence is often paired with these demonstrations, and mere proximity casts us in a bad light. Reputation is crucial for a woman in business. Remember that.”

For a woman living in the world, Hattie might have said. She knew first-hand what a ruined reputation meant for a female, having lost hers once upon a time when she was Hortense Gladwell rather than Harriet Glover.

“Yes, ma’am. Sorry, missus. I spoke out o’ turn.” Rose’s nearly perfect grammar slipped into the colloquial accent of her childhood whenever she grew nervous. The poor thing was easily cowed by the slightest chastisement. Although the bright-eyed redhead showed flashes of innate pluck and determination, as well as a merry sense of humor, at any remonstration from Hattie, Rose collapsed like chiffon in the rain.

“Honestly, I am not finding fault with you merely expressing a belief,” Hattie assured her. “You’re allowed to disagree with me.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Rose repeated. Her blue eyes reflected the afternoon sunlight as she gazed raptly at the long line of women on the street. “Ain’t—Aren’t they a sight, though? Wish I was brave enough to wear one of those sashes. But I never could be.”

Despite her remonstrance, Hattie wanted to blurt that Miss Rose Gardener could do anything she liked if she simply straightened her backbone and stepped forward into risk. But it would be hypocritical to suggest what she would never do herself. Hattie knew there were some risks that simply weren’t worth taking.

“Have you finished trimming Miss Pruett’s straw boater? ‘More cherries,’” she mimicked the young lady’s high-pitched, breathy voice. “‘And a scarlet ribbon! I want to be seen.’”

Rose giggled at her mimicry. “Mrs. Glover, you’re such a stitch.”

Hattie smiled. “And you need to get to stitching. Those cherry clusters aren’t going to fasten themselves.”

Rose laughed harder at the jest as she headed toward the back room.

Hattie took a quick look around to admire her shop as she did many times a day. Satisfaction and pride filled her until it felt as if the buttons would pop off her bodice. The millinery was all hers, from the extravagant chapeaus on each mannequin’s head to the display case of satin, lace, and kid gloves. Racks of ribbon, laces, beads, feathers, sequins, netting, and fabrics filled one end of the room, enticing customers to request ever more elaborate concoctions. Unadorned hats in a variety of sizes and styles were available to choose from. From a black-veiled mourning bonnet to the most extravagant Merry Widow, Hattie could fulfill every woman’s image of herself with a hat tailored to that customer’s desires.

She returned her attention to sprinkling a cascade of faux cherry blossom petals around the mannequin heads in the window and noted that the marchers were moving on at last. Hattie watched a woman bend over to talk to a girl of about twelve or so. Both wore very plain, outmoded garments. They were clearly working class yet marched beside a society matron dressed in the latest Parisian style, including a gold turban on which sequins glittered in the sunlight. The contrast between the marchers and the sight of all of these women from different stations in life banded together in a common cause made Hattie’s throat tighten with emotion.

The bell over the door rang as someone entered the shop. Hattie swallowed the lump, dashed away foolish, sentimental tears, and turned to greet her customer with a smile. “May I help—”

The rest of her customary greeting came out as an unintelligible gurgle, for the person who had entered the millinery was not her normal sort of client. On rare occasions, gentlemen did stop in alongside their fiancées, wives, or, more often, mistresses, but the shock of this particular fellow was not due to his gender. Hattie had quite simply never seen such an attractive man. His face and figure were handsome, for he had finely-drawn features and a trim athletic build, but more than that, his presence crackled with vitality. Bright blue eyes beamed joie de vivre and mischief. Such a man could mean nothing but trouble to any woman who came within his orbit.

Hattie stilled the rise of answering energy in her body and calmed herself before repeating, “May I help you, sir?”

“Indeed.” The fellow had been studying the shop, but now gazed directly at Hattie. Another jolt of ridiculous attraction stabbed her. She waited for it to pass while scolding herself for such nonsense. The only time she’d allowed herself to be swept away on a tide like this, it had nearly drowned her.

Foolish girl, what have you done? Her aunt’s voice still haunted her.

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