Ophelia's Muse

Ophelia's Muse by Rita Cameron Read Free Book Online

Book: Ophelia's Muse by Rita Cameron Read Free Book Online
Authors: Rita Cameron
live vicariously through their clientele, felt their triumphs and slights as if they were their own. Lizzie collected their adventures, which often struck her as the stuff of fiction, like precious gems: stolen kisses in steamy conservatories, musical recitals in elegant drawing rooms, and leisurely walks over the bluffs and dunes at the coast.
    And of course, there were the clothes. The shopgirls, whose business was fashion, after all, could describe in painstaking detail each of the gowns worn by their customers, from the cut of the bodice to the quality of lace in the trimmings. Listening to these stories, Lizzie longed for both the finery and the admiration that always surrounded those glittering women. But she was careful not to betray her desire—to do so would have invited ridicule from the other girls. Though each girl must have harbored some secret wish in her own heart, to admit such a thing would have robbed the delight from their talk, and put too plainly before them their own dingy prospects.
    Lizzie sighed and looked down at the bonnet in her hands. The weak light made it difficult to see what she was doing, and the strain on her eyes was giving her a headache. When Mrs. Tozer bustled into the workroom and glanced over at Lizzie, her heart leapt with hope—perhaps she would be let out early again. She would much rather be at home, curled up in her bed with a book.
    But to Lizzie’s surprise, Mrs. Tozer only stood and watched her work for a moment with narrowed eyes. Finally she spoke. “When you’ve finished with that bonnet, Miss Siddal, I’ll have a word with you.”
    Lizzie tensed, but the other girls burst into laughter the minute that Mrs. Tozer returned to her office.
    â€œWell, well, I never thought I’d see the day!” said a plump girl at the end of the table. “Miss Siddal ’as gotten herself in trouble. Behind on your orders, are you, Lizzie?”
    Lizzie colored but remained silent. She didn’t know why Mrs. Tozer might want to speak with her.
    â€œI think she has a beau,” chimed in a thinner girl, with mousy brown hair. “I saw a fellow watching her in the shop this morning with eyes like a lovesick cow!”
    â€œA beau!” the plump girl said. “I don’t believe it. I never seen a girl that could cut a man down like Lizzie can. But I suppose even ice can melt.”
    â€œI’ve no idea what you’re talking about,” Lizzie said. She was proud that she knew how to keep unwanted attention at a distance, as her mother had taught her. A few of the other girls at the shop could have used such a lesson. They were always flirting with the clerks and errand boys who hung around the shop—boys who could offer them nothing but trouble. Lizzie turned back to her work, but the other girls had already seized upon the idea.
    â€œOh, come on,” the plump girl pressed. “Don’t keep us guessing! Who’s your handsome lad?”
    â€œHe must have an eye for redheads—thinks her fiery!” called out another girl.
    â€œNonsense,” Lizzie said, reaching up to smooth her hair.
    â€œWell, maybe you don’t have a beau, but you ain’t so perfect as you would like everyone to think,” the mousy girl pouted. “I seen you three times this week reading a book in the storeroom when you was supposed to be putting away the fabrics.”
    Lizzie bit her lip. She hadn’t known that anyone had seen her little indulgence, glancing through a book of poems to break up the monotony of the day.
    â€œWhat do you care?” Jeannie Evans snapped, coming to Lizzie’s defense. “You’re only jealous because you couldn’t read a child’s primer.”
    This elicited a roar of laughter from the other girls, and the mousy girl scowled. Before she could make a retort, Mrs. Tozer entered the workroom, all bustle and the swish of starched skirts. “That’s enough, girls.

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