Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Francis to Charley: New Zealand

August, 1868
Charley-Still no word from Marlene. When I have tried to talk to Msr. Beauchamp about her, he waves his hand dismissively and says that Marlene must be one of those "hysterical" women and she has run off somewhere. He seems completely unconcerned about what has happened to her. I am happy to tell you that Msr. is going to be leaving for several months and that should give me the opportunity to look for the cupboard you mentioned. You will not imagine where he is going! To New Zealand and not for fashion--but for GOLD! It seems there is a gold rush there and Msr. B has gone to Thames, N.Z to stake a claim! Ha! Can you imagine fussy Msr. B in a miner's camp-getting his hands dirty? I must work quickly here as I imagine he will be back much sooner the he thinks.  Francis

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Charley to Francis: Norway

May 1868

This is disturbing news indeed!  Marlene had the key on her person and I fear it may be lost and she with it.  In her last letter she mentioned that the key fit a locked cabinet in the workroom.  I sent a wire to my contacts in Singapore and received a reply that Marlene never arrived but rather a man by the name of Robert Arsenault and that he had done the fitting for the Buckingham’s.  Something is surely amiss!  I will attempt to rendezvous with you in Paris as soon as I am able.  I am presently in Norway with Mary.  She has decided to purchase a prized herd of diary goats from the Balstads in Harstad, whom I believe you know.  I believe she is more interested in a certain cheesemaker but that is a story for another day when less pressing matters prevail.  If Msr. B has harmed Marlene in any way he shall rue it – I promise!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Francis Laird to Charley: Singapore

April 1868
Dear Charley-I am afraid I have rather disturbing news. As per our agreement, I met with Msr B and he agreed to employ my services as his soliciter, which would give me access to all his personal and business financial records. When I arrived at his studio, I was informed that Marlene had gone to Singapore to attend the wedding of John and Mary Buckingham. Marlene had helped design the lovely dress you see Mary wearing and was to help with the final fitting of the dress and with wedding preparations. I found it off that Marlene had gone to Singapore alone! And Charley, I am sorry to tell you this, but her seamstress basket has been left behind! With all of her tools in it. I fiind this very odd and alarming! When I asked Msr when he expected Marlene to return, he gave a very vague answer. I fear for Marlene's safety. Please advise. Francis

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Charley to Marlene: Turkey

January 1868

Dear Marlene,
Mary and I have found ourselves in the most exotic of places!  While travelling home to Scotland we met the most interesting man who is in the business of railroads!  His name was Solomon Willard.  His father developed machinery for an early tramroad in Massachusetts and Solomon was on his way to Izmir to observe the Ottoman Railway.  He was such an enthusiastic man!  I found his descriptions of Istanbul to be fascinating.  Mary just smiled and nodded, already acquiescing to what she knew was coming!  I am such a rascal to her it is a good thing she loves me so!  So after a short stay at home I am off again on an adventure, but this time with the delightful company of my daughter.  We are wandering the alleys and nooks of Istanbul, letting our noses drink in the exotic smells of spices and tobacco and sounds most foreign to us.  We were privileged to observe a dervishman or also known as a  “whirling dervish”.  He is a muslim “holyman” who spins round and round.  It is a most interesting spectacle to see.  His robes are very full so that when he spins they flare out most dramatically Mary has rendered him very accurately and beautifully for you along with the Turkish word for their god, Allah.  Before we left Fintry I sent a fella who works for me to Paris.  His or rather our plan is for him to ingratiate himself with Msr. B.  His name is Francis Laird and he is a most able and resourceful man.  He should arrive by the end of the month so do be on the lookout for him.  Once his is there and settled in the two of you have work to do!
Affectionately, Charley

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Marlene to Charley-Netherlands

October 1867
Dear Charley-What a pleasant surprise to receive the photo carte of you in the post. it is a most agreeable photograph. I have decided to respond in kind by sending you a photo of myself taken while in Switzerland. our plan was to travel to the Netherlands to consult with the royal family, but the trip was cancelled because of an avalance in Switzerland which buried the railroad racks. By the time we were rescued from the train, we had to return to the studio in Paris as we have (I have) many dresses to stitch before the holiday season begins. I am most anxious to get back to the investigation of the cupboard's contents but must get all the sewing finished first. Marlene

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Charley to Marlene: Canada

June 1867

Dear Marlene,
The trip to Cuba was a smashing success with a less than smashing finale!  Henry and I were afforded a grand tour of Cuba and he made some quite promising sketches.  He was so taken with the landscape that he changed his plans and remained in Cuba.  Nicaise and I continued on to Boston where we originally planned to return home after a short stay, but I took ill shortly after we put into port.  A most capable physician determined it was, as I secretly feared, the fever.  The doctor said he was most surprised at my recovery and determined it must have been due to my prior robust health.  Nicaise returned to England with haste to give word to Mary and to allay her fears.  She came as soon as the news reached her, but by the time she arrived I was convalescing most satisfactorily.  This week the weather warmed and Mary and I travelled to Prince Edward Island for extended rest and rejuvenation.  We are taking the ocean air in daily, which is most agreeable.  Mary convinced me to have a photo carte made which I send to thee most humbly.  She urged me to rest in a chair for the event, but as you can see I prevailed the day!  Mary brought your news from Switzerland and I am most anxious to hear of the cabinet!  Please use caution and send word as soon as you discover the contents!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Marlene to Charley: Switzerland

Switzerland, September 1866

Dear Charley
Msr and I have traveled to the rural valleys of Switzerland to see the yarns produced by the Spoerry brothers-yarns that can “provide textile creations with a unique soul”. I am unsure why Msr. wanted me to accompany him when there is so much work to be done in the design studio. I fear that Msr. is “keeping an eye on me”. Before we left, I was once again trying the key in various cupboards and to my surprise one of them opened! Then I heard the sound of approaching footsteps and I had to hurriedly close and lock the cupboard. I barely managed to do it before he entered the room. He looked at me in a menacing and suspicious way-but I am determined to find out what is in the cupboard.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Charley to Marlene : Cuba

The Ocean Blue
April 1866

Marlene –
Your letter arrived in Antwerp by courier on Tuesday morning.  It was very fortunate as I left that very morning with Nicaise and a Mr. Henry Cleenewerck on a boat to Cuba!  My daughter will be beside herself when the news makes its way home to Culcreuch.  We are on quite an adventure.  Henry is anxious to see the countryside and I believe Nicaise has spent much of the ocean voyage discussing the growing of sugar cane with a Sr. Andres Gomez-Mena who boarded in Spain.  He has large holdings in Havana.  It was determined over dinner last night that we will be his guests on his plantation in Havana.  It is quite a voyage for an old man, but there is no work involved, just a grand adventure.  I suspect while Nicaise courts the baron families for portrait work, Henry and I will jaunt the countryside in search of primitives.  I thought I had mentioned my profession to you earlier, but perhaps I was remiss.  In my early years I served as an assistant to the master Gustaf Wappers at the academy in Antwerp, primarily in the design of the scene (developing a great many skills to both the realms of art and needle).  I continue to work mostly as favors to my many colleagues – although I think it they who do me the favor!  We land tomorrow and I will transfer these scribblings to proper form.  I hope they find you well.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Marlene to Charley: Wales

March 1866
Charley-We have been summoned to Wales to consult with Alexandra, Princess of Wales-the wife of Edward VII. I am quite excited about meeting her as she is very beautiful and stylish and many women want to emulate her. I have heard she enjoys dancing-so may want several ball gowns. She is also an excellent horsewoman and as a child in Denmark, the author Hans Christian Anderson used to come to the palace and read her stories. I was unable to speak with Lawrence Alma Tadema about the painting, but did overhear Msr. B talking with a man (rather unsavory character) and from the tone of his voice, he did not seem pleased. While in the studio in Paris, I had a brief opportunity to try the key with your name on it in several cupboards, but to no avail. I will keep trying. If I may ask, what kind of work did you do for Msr. B? Please keep thinking about what the key can be.  Marlene

Friday, February 10, 2012

Charley to Marlene: Belgium

Dec. 1865

Marlene, I hope I do not take liberties to address you so familiarly.  If so I pray you forgive an old man for his quirks.  News of the remarkable discovery made it here to Belgium.  I was summoned from Hong Kong by my dear friend Nicaise de Keyser upon the recent death of the king.  His son (Leo. II) was crowned Sunday last and my services were required.  Although it meant my work in China was cut short, it was most satisfying to visit Nicaise.  He is a noted and most accomplished painter and it was he who first told me of the discovered Antoinette painting.  The Academy here in Antwerp have dispatched a panel of experts to Paris to examine the painting and to attempt to determine its source.  I mentioned briefly with him over dinner last eve, our correspondences and your association with Msr. B.  I tell you – I have known Nicaise for quite some time and have never seen such a look on his face as when I mentioned Msr. B.  I fear you misunderstood my earlier reference to my employ with him.  It was but for a short period when I was much younger with keener senses of observation than I fear I possess today.  In fact I fear my negotiations in China may have been to my disadvantage as I wearied from the work of it.  My daughter urges me to pass the work on to younger men, but it is hard to let it go.  But I digress.  The contingent from Antwerp will include a Lawrence Alma-Tadema.  You might seek him out and hear what he has to say about the painting.  You should mention my acquaintance.  Until anon.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Marlene to Charley: France


Paris 1865
We are back in Paris at Msr Beauchamp design studios for a brief time to replenish our fabrics and supplies. The talk of Paris right now is the “discovery” of a painting of Jeanette Antoinette, the eldest sister of Marie Antoinette. She appears to be a rather strange woman, but very stylishly dressed. Msr. Beauchamp is somehow linked to the discovery of the painting… I am very disturbed by your recent post, but I must remain with Msr as I am a widow with no means of support. I carry the key with in in a discreet place on my person, but have taken your advice and have hidden all of my notes and drawings in the studio. I am wondering if the key could unlock something here? Do you recall anything from your employ here? Most close-Msr approaches.  Marlene

Friday, January 27, 2012

Charley to Marlene: China

Hong Kong, July 1864
Mrs. Edwards, I have just arrived in China to secure silks for my work in Spain.  I may be here for some time as the civil war continues and my lack of fluency in the language hampers negotiations.  Msr. B may well be on his way to becoming the father of “Fashion Moderne”, but I tell you this not lightly – he has done it on the backs and talents of women with far more integrity than he possesses.  Msr. B is a cad with an appetite for the attractions of those above his station.  But I can confess to you that he is a fraud and a charlatan who has bought those attentions through means most nefarious!  Although I am but little known to you, I sense a kinship in you, and because of this I pray and urge you not to mention our acquaintance or the key to Msr. B.  Secure it safely, not on your person, but perhaps with your husband or a trusted friend.  Mrs. Edwards, you appear to be a woman of some talent and grace.  Do not be seduced by Msr. B’s promises for they will bear little fruit.  If you have any designs for fashion I urge you to spare your heart a great disappointment and secure any drawings or notes in a place of only your knowing.  Please for my own sake, place the key with them.  You should precede post haste!


Marlene to Charley: Brazil

Rio de Janeiro 1864

M. C. Spiers
I am sorry it has taken so long to reply to you. After Austria we were summoned to Brazil to the Empress Teresa Cristina. You may wonder how Msr. Beauchamp could be known so far away as Brazil-the Empress is originally from Italy. (She is quiet plain-I am not sure why our services were requested). The voyage by ship to Brazil took many months and when we arrived we found ourselves in the middle of a war between Brazil and Paraguay. We have been here almost 6 months and are only now able to secure passage home. I hope to hear more about your employ with Msr Beauchamp. He is indeed a stern taskmaster.
Marlene Rose Edwards
p.s. I examined the key more closely and found the initials L.A.M. scratched into it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Charley to Marlene: Spain

Barcelona, April 1863

Dear Madame Edwards,

I must say it was a shock to see the name of Monsieur Beauchamp again.  If you are apprentice to him I send you my most sincere sympathies.  You must be quiet an accomplished seamstress for him to keep you so close.  With regards to the key, I fear you have me at a disadvantage.  You say you found it in a sewing basket with name and address attached?  I know of no such key, but I have been out of M. Beauchamps' employ for quite some time now.  If you have further information regarding it, I would be most eager to hear of it.

C. Spiers

P.S.  I am currently in Spain working on a new project.  The bullfights are most thrilling and their costumes even more so.  I will return to Scotland late next month if you have further news.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Marlene to Charley: Austria

Vienna, 1863
I hope you will not find it odd to get a message from a stranger. I am a seamstress apprenticed to the famous dressmaker, Monsieur Beauchamp. We travel the world making beautiful clothing. As you can see the Empress Elizabeth of Austria commissioned him to make this dress. I do think that flowers worn in the hair will become a new sensation. When I accepted the position with Msr. Beauchamp, I was given a lovely sewing basket and inside I found a key with your name and address attached. Oh dear, running out of room.
Yours, Marlene Rose Edwards

(Author's note:  Empress Elizabeth of Austria was one of the first women of her time to wear flowers in her hair in this style. Soon, women all over Europe were wearing flowers in their hair.)