Rising, Venus-like, from a hip bath, Eulogy reflected on the recent past. London, she concluded, was a city of contradictions. Since her arrival two days ago, she had been sneered at, attacked and robbed, but also met with great kindness from strangers.
Wrapped in a towel she considered her forthcoming call. It had been a mistake calling on Devlin travelled stained and disheveled. What footman worth his salt would not turn such a creature away? In his place she would likely have done the same. Now she was bathed and the mud brushed from her dress, she hoped to be presentable enough.
Ten minutes later, dry and dressed, Miss Foster's fledgling optimism dipped as Mrs Parker surveyed her with a frown.
"Your relative lives in Grosvenor Square?"
"Are you well acquainted?"
"Not at all." Eulogy hung her head.
"Then I'm afraid my dear, that dress simply will not do. No self respecting coal merchant would receive a guest dressed in that old sack."
"Oh," Eulogy swallowed hard. "It's all I have. My luggage was stolen."
"Hmmm, then we shall have to improvise.' Mrs Parker walked around, measuring by eye. `I am taller
but our figures are similar
if we take up the hem
I have a suitable gown."
"I couldn't possibly."
"And why not?" Mrs Parker regarded her sternly.
"I am a stranger, because I owe you so much already, because
"Hush now, I insist. Come with me."
Eulogy followed Mrs Parker into her private dressing room. Self consciously, she averted her eyes, trying not to stare at the gilt cherubs cavorting round the walls. Throwing open a trunk, rooting through the contents. With a flourish Mrs Parker held up an elegant muslin day dress: cream with pale blue spots.
"Just the thing," she shook out the folds, "not quite this season but pretty enough and quality always tells. Now, if I can find the petticoats
"It's beautiful," Eulogy sighed, as the soft fabric whispered in her hands.
Mrs Parker beamed. "Let's see how it fits."
She disliked not being in mourning, but what choice had she? Shedding her woollen dress, the muslin fell in a gracefull column, glancing off her hips and grazing her legs with airy softness. Freed from the weight of wool, Eulogy felt light, untethered and daringly exposed. The gown's bodice was low, fitting snuggly over the bust, fastened at the back with a row of seed pearls.
"A few minor alterations," Mrs Parker clucked approvingly, "and here, see for yourself."
Turning to the mirror, Eulogy saw herself dressed as a lady of quality.
"How can I ever thank you?"
Mrs Parker fussed around the hem. "It needs taking up a couple of inches
.and somewhere I have matching gloves
and the most darling shawl that is just perfect.''
"You are too kind." A lump formed in Eulogy's throat.
"None sense. And shoes
the blue silk slippers should do it
"I couldn't possibly
" Eulogy objected weakly.
"Hush, shoes and what else do we need? Hair! That plait is a crime against such wonders
I insist on dressing it properly
In the face of such determination Eulogy allowed Mrs Parker to steer her to the dressing table.
Some time later, Eulogy barely recognized herself. Her hair in soft ringlets, bobbing around her chin and a dainty bonnet perched on the crown of her head; there was no denying Mrs Parker's judgment in matters of style.
Mrs Parker surveyed her handiwork. "So much better. But be warned. Yours are the looks to turn a man's head. Be on your guard, there are those who would take advantage of a country lass such as yourself."
Eulogy's heart skipped a beat. "Surely you don't mean Mr Huntley?"
"I wasn't referring to him," Mrs Parker placed a hand softly on her shoulder, "but it wouldn't do to go getting ideas. Let's just say Mr Huntley likes to keep his associations with women on a purely business footing."
"Nothing was further from my mind." Her cheeks flamed. Mr Huntley take an interest in her? How utterly ridiculous! And yet in the pit of her stomach sat an emotion much akin to disappointment.
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