Jenny spent the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon closeted with the seamstresses whom Sir Albert had recruited from the village to assist her in the preparation of garments. The steward was certainly efficient, Jenny thought as she delved down into the trunks that had been brought to her. Efficient and cold. She didn’t like him at all, though she wasn’t certain exactly why. Based on Agnes’s words this morning, all the serfs at Claymore certainly held the thin man in high esteem. Esteem and a twinge of fear. Frustrated with her odd, emotional reactions to everyone here, and with the endless, uneasy silence of the women in the room, she studied the array of rich, colorful fabrics flowing over the bed and draped over the chairs. They lay like bright splashes of liquid jewels—ruby silks shot with gold, silver and gold brocades, amethyst velvets, sapphire taffeta shimmering as if sprinkled with diamonds, and rich, glowing satins in every shade of the spectrum from pearl to emerald to onyx. Beside them lay soft English wools in every imaginable weight and color, from brightest yellow and scarlets to shades of cream, gray, tan, and black. There were cottons from Italy, striped horizontally and vertically; richly embroidered linen for gowns and shirts, sheer, almost transparent linen for chemises and undergarments; shimmering tissues for veils; and buttery leather for gloves and slippers.
Even allowing for complete wardrobes for Royce and herself and Aunt Elinor, Jenny could scarcely conceive of ways to use so much. Overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task that lay ahead, and by her lack of imagination and knowledge of fashion, Jenny turned a little dazedly to the two enormous trunks overflowing with furs. "I think," she said aloud to Agnes as she gathered up an armful of luxurious dark sable, "that this could be used to line a cape made of that dark blue velvet for the duke."
"The cream satin," Agnes burst out almost desperately, then she closed her mouth and her face resumed its habitual frown.
Jenny turned to her in relieved surprise that the woman—whom she’d just learned had been seamstress to the former mistress of Claymore—had finally offered a voluntary word. Trying to hide her lack of enthusiasm for the idea, Jenny said, ‘The cream satin? Truly? Do you think the duke would wear that?"
"For you," Agnes said in a choked voice, as if forced to speak by some inner fashion consciousness that cried out against the misuse of the sable, "not him."
"Oh," Jenny said, startled and pleased by the combination suggested. She gestured to the white fur. "And that?"
"The ermine to trim the sapphire brocade."
"And for the duke?" Jenny persisted, more pleased by the moment.
"The dark blue velvet, the black, and that dark brown."
"I’ve little knowledge of fashion," Jenny admitted, smiling with pleasure at the suggestions. "When I was young, ’twas of no interest to me at all, and later—these past years—I’ve lived in an abbey, and the only fashions I saw were the garments we all wore. But I comprehend already that you’ve a wonderful eye for how things will look, and I’ll gladly take all your suggestions."
Turning, she surprised a startled look on Agnes’s face, and something that might almost have been a smile, though Jenny rather suspected it was due more to her admission to having been in an abbey than her compliment to Agnes’s taste. The other two seamstresses, both plain-faced young women, seemed to have thawed slightly as well. Perhaps they found her less "the enemy" if she’d been living in peace as a pious Catholic these past years.
Agnes stepped forward and began gathering up the fabrics, including the linen and cottons, which had already been singled out for specific uses. "Can you do the design for the cape and gown?" Jenny asked, bending to scoop up the cream brocade. "I haven’t much idea how it should be cut, though I’ll help with the cutting, of course. I’m more clever with shears than I am with a needle, I fear."
A muffled sound like a swallowed giggle escaped one of the younger women, and Jenny turned in surprise to find the seamstress called Gertrude suffused in an alarmed flush. "Did you laugh?" Jenny asked, hoping she had, regardless of the reason, for she longed desperately for some sort of female camaraderie.
Gertrude’s flush deepened.
"You did laugh, didn’t you? Was it because of what I said about being handy with shears?"
The woman’s lips trembled and her eyes almost popped out as she strained to keep her nervous mirth contained. Without realizing that she was staring the poor woman down, Jenny tried to imagine what the maids could be finding funny about her skill with shears. A thought struck her, and her mouth dropped open. "You heard about that, did you? About what I did—to your master’s things?"
If anything, the poor woman’s eyes widened yet more, and she looked at her friend, swallowed a giggle, then looked back at Jennifer. " ‘Tis true then, my lady?" she whispered.
Suddenly the desperate deed seemed rather funny to Jenny, too. She nodded gaily. " ‘Twas a dreadful thing to do—worse than sewing the armholes closed on his shirts and—"
"You did that, too?" And before Jenny could answer, the two seamstresses let loose great, gusty shouts of laughter and began to nudge each other in the ribs, nodding with approval. Even Agnes’s lips were trembling with mirth.
When the two younger women had left, Jenny went into Royce’s room with Agnes to give her samples of his clothes so that she might use them to gauge his measurements for the new ones. There was something strangely intimate and oddly poignant about handling his doublets and cloaks and shirts.
He had amazingly broad shoulders, Jenny thought with a tingle of pride as she held a woolen tunic out to Agnes—and surprisingly few clothes, she noted, for a man of such wealth. What he had was of the finest quality, but it had seen much wear—a silent testimony to a man whose concerns had been with matters far weightier than clothing.
Many of his shirts were slightly frayed at the wrists, and buttons were missing from two of them. He was badly in need of a wife, Jenny thought with a whimsical little smile, to look after such details. No wonder he’d reacted with such pleasure, months ago in camp, when she’d volunteered to do mending. A sharp stab of guilt pierced her for the deliberate damage she’d done to what few articles of clothing he apparently had. Unlike the maids, she no longer found that funny, and the fact that they did puzzled and concerned her. It seemed rather odd, but then there was much about Claymore that struck her as being odd.
Now that the dam of reticence had been broken, Agnes seemed willing to talk at length about how to proceed with all the garments, and when she left, she actually smiled shyly at Jenny, but that, too, bothered Jenny as much as it pleased her.