He warned her from the beginning. “Don’t put your trust in me,” he said, as he stitched the lace ruff to the corset of her dress. “Just because I am a dressmaker, doesn’t mean I belong in the home.” His cheek was close to her bosom and the sharp needle glinted in the candlelight.
“But, Sandy,” she said. “Only a trustworthy man would say that.” So, she kept coming back to him with requests of new costumes for her stage act: The Travelling Woman, and after she’d been fitted they would retire to his flat above the costume shop and live as man and wife for two or three days and nights, until a performance called her back or the shop needed to be aired to stop the fabric from getting musty.
One day, she got a proposal from a rich gentleman who had taken a fancy to her from the Royal Box. “Your costumes are so glorious,” he said. “You look like a performing orchid. You could be the centrepiece of my estate. How are you with running family affairs?”
Now, The Travelling Woman had received many proposals from men over the years, but this gentleman was taller than the others and she loved a tall man, and what’s more he wore plush green velvet; every man is attractive in shades of dark green.
“Thank you, Lord Spick, for your generous suggestion, but I love another. The man who made the costumes you admire so much, in fact.” She hardly knew what she was saying, but it was out of her mouth before she could stop it with her gloved hand – gloved by Sandy, in soft white leather with twenty pearls for buttons.
“He is very nimble with a needle,” said the Lord. He bowed low and took leave.
When The Travelling Woman returned to Sandy’s shop, with an anticipatory blush in her cheeks, she was horrified to find it boarded up. She hammered at the boards, and when nobody came, she ripped them away with unaccountable strength, borne from the love she had tended like a plant over the last year.
Inside, she found Sandy slumped over a table, with both of his hands as fat as clubs.
“They broke my hands,” he said, his mouth a parallelogram of pain. “I need to go to the hospital but I think they might amputate.”
Over the next few months, The Travelling Woman nursed Sandy back to health, and though his fingers could no longer sew, he was able to draw, and what he drew were the plans for a machine that could sew forth automatically, making line upon line of neat and tight stitch, and what’s more, it would be strong enough to penetrate leather and canvas.
The Travelling Woman took the plans to engineers and presented to them with her most professional face, and one man bought the designs for a large sum of money.
With the money, Sandy and The Travelling Woman ordered twenty of the finished machines and built a dressmaking factory, giving work to young women. The Travelling Woman became the Head of Personnel, and everyone loved to work for her. Sometimes the girls would sing as they worked.
Many years later, when the couple were reading by the fire, she asked him why he warned her away all those years ago. “You said not to put my trust in you.”
“I’m an ex-convict,” he said, simply. “When I was younger, I stole a hen and it all blew up into a much bigger matter than it should have done. I’m probably still a wanted man in Somerset.”
“Well, you’re a wanted man, here,” said The Travelling Woman, feeling lucky. She had lived enough to know that things could have ended very differently indeed.