The Seamstress

The Seamstress

by Allison Pittman

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Overview

A beautifully crafted story breathes life into the cameo character from the classic novel A Tale of Two Cities.

France, 1788
It is the best of times . . .

On a tranquil farm nestled in the French countryside, two orphaned cousins—Renée and Laurette—have been raised under the caring guardianship of young Émile Gagnon, the last of a once-prosperous family. No longer starving girls, Laurette and Renée now spend days tending Gagnon's sheep, and nights in their cozy loft, whispering secrets and dreams in this time of waning innocence and peace.

It is the worst of times . . .

Paris groans with a restlessness that can no longer be contained within its city streets. Hunger and hatred fuel her people. Violence seeps into the ornate halls of Versailles. Even Gagnon’s table in the quiet village of Mouton Blanc bears witness to the rumbles of rebellion, where Marcel Moreau embodies its voice and heart.

It is the story that has never been told.

In one night, the best and worst of fate collide. A chance encounter with a fashionable woman will bring Renée’s sewing skills to light and secure a place in the court of Queen Marie Antoinette. An act of reckless passion will throw Laurette into the arms of the increasingly militant Marcel. And Gagnon, steadfast in his faith in God and country, can only watch as those he loves march straight into the heart of the revolution.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781414390468
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date: 02/05/2019
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 782,645
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author


As far as I know, I have always been a writer. Before I could put words to page, I would dictate stories to my mother. I have always lulled myself to sleep by crafting stories--a new chapter each night. When God called me to write, I was thrilled to answer His prompting. And so it was, after a long conversation with my husband, I left a 20-year teaching career to pursue a new direction. It called for a HUGE step of faith, but God has kept me and our family safe.

I count every single one of my readers as one of God's blessings in my life, and I like to think of my stories as being the first step in a conversation. Please visit my website, www.allisonpittman.com and send me an email. It is one of my greatest joys to hear from you!

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

L'épisode 1

Renée

MOUTON BLANC, LA VALLÉE

My first and last memories are my cousin Laurette. She wasn't quite three years old when I came into the world, but her arms were sturdy enough to hold me, and my mother never missed an opportunity to thrust me upon her. Laurette's was the breath on my cheek as we slept, curled together on the tiny mat in the corner of our tattered house. She spoke the nightmares away, softened my bread with milk, entertained me for hours on end with a knotted string and games of cat's cradle.

Our mothers were sisters, sharing a house on the fringe of our village — Mouton Blanc, named for the white sheep that produced fine, prized wool. Our family never owned any sheep of their own. We had no farm, no land. Only two rooms and a fire, but subsisted on the prosperity of the town. Laurette and I grew up smelling their roasting meat, and shared tiny portions cooked in stew. We walked through the bustling market square, past baskets overflowing with harvest, watching our mothers trade small coins for the remnants hidden behind the merchants. The yeasty smell of the baker's shop meant a fresh, hot loaf of bread, and a crossed bun handed over the counter for the two of us to share, bite by bite.

My father was unknown to me, and if my mother knew his name, she never uttered it. I was given no fanciful tale about a dashing stranger, or a wandering minstrel, or a farmer's son overtaken by desire. I asked once if I could call Laurette's father my own, as we shared the same roof and table, but was delivered a slap to my face that left the mark of my mother's hand for nearly a week. I never asked again. At the time (I was probably six years old) I assumed my mother reacted so harshly because she wouldn't want such a man for my father. My uncle was short-tempered and often drunk, quick to violence and raging. But then, as I grew older, I noticed the way he looked at my mother — she was the more beautiful of the two sisters — and having learned a bit about the workings of men and women, I wondered if I hadn't come close to guessing the truth.

Though our household was never prosperous, it was, for the most part, quiet. Content. Laurette's father worked for different farmers, hiring himself out during the shearing season and throughout the year, mending fences and whatever day labor he could get. Always, it was enough to feed us and allow him nights at the tavern to drink up the rest. Our mothers did village work, too, carding great sacks of wool, teaching both of us the art as soon as our hands were big enough to fit the wooden paddles. Laurette never mastered the skill, but I loved any moment my hands were occupied with creating. Mother would barter old clothes from the rag man, and spend winter evenings cutting and mending, turning women's skirts into boys' breeches and old nightshirts into christening gowns, edged with lace tatted from spinners' scraps.

I was too young to take note of all the changes as they happened. Realization dawned that we had less money. Less food. Less everything. I understood the years of drought and the toll they took on the local harvests, but I had no concept of the role the king played in the slow death of our town. I didn't know he took good grazing land and gave it to the Church. I didn't know he imposed taxes beyond what my neighbors could pay. Therefore, I didn't understand the hopelessness that would drive Laurette's father to kill her mother in a drunken rage, nor the hanging that left us equally fatherless. Even more, I could not fathom a grief that would cause my mother to simply walk away one night, leaving us equally orphaned. I was ten, Laurette was twelve, and we lived for nearly two months on the scraps of neighbors' charity before anyone else even knew she'd gone.

But Émile Gagnon found us. Rather, we found him. I would guess that his flock still numbered five hundred head at the time, and Laurette hoped we would find work — in his kitchen, in his fields. Winter was coming and we had nothing to fill our bellies or warm our hearth. We'd heard him one day at the inn, Le Cochon Gros, the same place that slaked my uncle's thirst and nourished his anger. Gagnon was lifting a toast to the fine price he'd fetched for his wool, wishing a blessing on the carders and spinners, the weavers and tailors who take the humble offerings of his sheep and make clothing fit for the king.

"Think of it, spun fine and stretched over the queen's legs ...," one of his fellow drinkers said, the rest of his comment spoken low and drowned out by raucous laughter.

It was Laurette who approached Gagnon. Looking back now, I realize what a young man he was. Everybody in town spoke of him with such glowing reverence, he might have been a founder. But he was only twenty-two — old enough to laugh at an off-color joke, but young enough to be embarrassed by it. He, too, was an orphan, if a grown man could be called such, having inherited his farm when his parents died in quick succession of a fever. Not a year later, he became a widower, losing his young wife and newborn child within an hour of each other. While some men might have turned bitter in the wake of so much loss, Émile Gagnon grew stronger.

He had turned away, a blush on his cheek, when Laurette walked right up to him.

"It's a fine thing," she said, "to ship everything away and leave nothing for your poor neighbors who are facing a winter with our dresses worn clean through."

That very evening we had a new home in Gagnon's barn. The small one, meant only to house his milk cows and dogs. It smelled of sweet hay and felt warm, with straw-stuffed ticks and feather pillows waiting in the loft. The walls were thick, the roof solid shingles, and while Gagnon said he wouldn't risk the danger of a stove to heat the room as we slept, we had the promise of hot irons during the coldest of winter nights.

For six years we have lived here. His sheep, our sheep, and this spring afternoon, Laurette and I lie next to each other, two shepherdesses stretched out on a carpet of green grass as they graze nearby.

* * *

"Your turn, Renée."

Laurette's voice is slow, the words almost slurred to a stop. I look over to see her arm flung across her eyes, blocking out the piercing sun.

"You're not even looking."

"I trust you." There's a hook of a smile at the corner of her mouth.

"All right." I turn my attention back to the vast sky above, dotted with clouds. "I see your rabbit." Pointing, the tip of my finger traces what could be a long, floppy ear. "But I'm afraid he's done for." I rise on one elbow and describe the mass of dark-gray clouds newly formed to the east. "Three dogs — or maybe one, like Cerberus."

"Cerberus?" Laurette never did pay as much attention to Gagnon's stories as I did.

"Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the gates of the underworld. Your little rabbit doesn't have a chance."

"Let them have it. They're probably hungry. I know I am."

I am, too, but I don't say so. Complaining about hunger is like complaining about being alive. It seems ungrateful, knowing we had our fill of bread and butter early this morning, and would find a good, filling bowl of soup upon our return. In between, we'd shared a flask of water and a boiled egg each.

"If only we could catch it," I say. "We could eat it ourselves, or most of it, anyway. And give the scraps to the dogs. Everyone, happy happy."

She lifts her arm enough to show me one open eye. "Even in fantasy you are practical."

I lie back down. "And even when there's nothing to be done you are lazy." She laughs, short and hearty, and I grin beside her. "Your turn."

"Non." She hums the word. "Why waste our time finding stories in the sky when we can drift off and find them in a dream?"

"Because we have to bring the sheep in."

"There's at least an hour before sunset." She settles in for comfort. "Do what you want with your time; I'll do what I want with mine."

Soft snores come within minutes, and I sit up, then stand up, brushing the dry grass from the back of my skirt. Looking out to the east, the same direction where my doglike pack of rain clouds seems to be gathering strength, I can just make out the white, woolly flock grazing on the horizon. More and more the air smells like rain, and I think it's best not to wait. Rain makes the sheep sluggish. Given the chance, they would stand still and turn into soggy statues.

Not far, a massive stone offers a better view, and I climb up, my bare feet gripping the smooth surface. Once standing, I bring two fingers to my mouth and whistle a distinct five-note command. Within seconds there is movement on the horizon. Two small, quick forms. Cossette and Copine, the dogs I helped train since their birth, are running in circles around the herd to gather it.

The herd is small now, little more than one hundred, and they move at a purposeful trot. The dogs flank them, taking on a pose that makes them look like two wolves stalking prey rather than beloved companions bringing them to safety. Thus, the sheep obey. I feel a certain pity, knowing that they live in a constant state of fear. Always feeling chased, hunted, watched. Ever alert and uneasy, their rest coming only when they are safely stabled in the yard. Or, better, in the barn, where the dogs sit as sentries outside, out of sight.

"You think they'd learn," I told Gagnon one afternoon when the sheep, grazing on the new, lush grass, shifted and startled with each movement of the dogs.

"Learn what?"

"That the dogs mean no harm. That they are champions, protectors."

"They're safer to keep their guard up," Gagnon said. "The dogs feel nothing for the sheep. They act in obedience to us. They run circles because it's a game, because we feed them. Their loyalty is to their own survival. If we ever stopped feeding them, left them to their own instincts, be certain they'd feed themselves somehow. The sheep are the smart ones. Better to live by the instinct God gave you than to be fooled by tricks and manners."

Now my instincts tell me to get ourselves home quickly, where we can have our hunger sated by whatever waits in the pot before tucking ourselves safely up in our room. I blow another signal, and the dogs break, double back, and begin to run. The sheep run with them, their woolly heads filled with fear at the chase. When they are close enough, I whistle again. Cossette and Copine drop to the ground, and the sheep come to a dead stop, their hooves rooted in place.

There's a rumble of thunder in the distance, and by the time I return to Laurette, she is sitting up and waiting.

"We'll have to hurry," I say. "To beat the rain."

She waves me off. "Afraid you'll melt? Like you're made of sugar?"

I want to say something back, but hold my tongue. This has been characteristic of my cousin of late — short, barbed remarks that make me feel my status with her has changed. Not really an enemy, but a rival of sorts. For all of our lives we have occupied the same space in the world, but there are moments like this one where I feel her nudging me away.

And so we walk. A brisk pace, but comfortable, the sheep behind and then beside us, responding to the pace set by the dogs, who seem much more eager to reach shelter than we do. The drops begin when we are in sight of the farm. It's nestled in a valley, bordered by a stream. There's a large, fenced corral for the sheep, as well as a long, flat building to house them in the winter and on nights like tonight. Gagnon's own house is a simple stone structure, and I can see smoke coming from the chimney promising a good fire and supper. By the time we arrive at the gate, the storm has broken out in earnest and Gagnon, wearing a waxed wool coat and broad-brimmed hat, meets us on the path.

"Go in!" he shouts above the storm. "I'll get them settled."

We obey, breaking into a run, new, soft mud beneath our toes. Every hour of a day spent beneath the sun washes away, our sweat replaced by sweet, fresh rivulets, our skin cooled. We take off our sodden caps and unfasten our hair, raking our fingers through to distribute the wet. How disheveled we must look when we finally burst through Gagnon's door, thoroughly soaked, teeth chattering.

"W-we have to ch-change," Laurette says. "Or we'll catch our death."

"Change into what?" I have one other dress — same as she — and it is across the yard hanging on a hook next to my bed.

"Here."

I follow her into the great room, where a long trunk sits beneath a window, its lid a cushioned seat. Inside, Gagnon keeps blankets and linens. With the authority of a mistress, Laurette opens it, rummages through, and takes out an old, yellowed shirt and two blankets.

"Strip down and put this on." I obey, comforted by her maternal tone, but feel a new onslaught of cold when my skin is bare. She strips, too, and I'm struck — not for the first time — how much more of a woman she is than I. True, she's almost three years older, but she'd already developed the soft curves of her body when she was my age. While I'm rolling up the shirtsleeves, I'm aware of the thinness of the material that falls past my knees. Such a garment would not suit Laurette. She might as well wear nothing.

In fact, she seems prepared to do just that, wrapping the thin blanket around her shoulders, holding the ends tight against her as she shivers by the fire. With her back to me, I notice a small hole right in the middle of the fabric, just atop her backside. Moths, I suspect, eating right where the blanket had been folded in the trunk.

"Let me see that," I say. "Take it off. I have an idea. Bend down." This, because I barely reach her chin, and I slip the blanket over her head.

While rifling through the contents of the trunk, Laurette had tossed a long strip of linen to the side. Picking it up now, I place it across her stomach, thread it through a smaller moth-hole near the small of her back, and wrap it back around, securing the loose blanket with a knot at her waist. The result is a dress, its hem long past her knees, the sleeves wide like tulips at her elbows. There's a clean line of color across her chest, outlining the bodice of her daily dress. Here, the fabric takes a sharp plunge beneath it, creating a soft V shape and an unprecedented view of the figure beneath.

"Aren't you the clever one, Cousine?" She puts her hands on her hips and parades around the room.

"It'll do to keep you warm, at least."

We gather our wet clothes and spread them out on the floor in front of the fire. Laurette steps carefully between our garments and ladles out a bowl of soup for herself, then one for me.

"Shouldn't we wait for Gagnon?"

"He'd want us to be warm on the inside and out. He's good that way, non?"

"He is." I accept the bowl, my hands gradually growing warm through the wood, and blow on its contents. There are large chunks of vegetables — carrots and turnips and onion — but no traces of meat. Still, the soup is flavorful and filling, and in my hunger I slurp it from the wooden spoon so quickly it burns the roof of my mouth. It's not long before I am full. Or, at least, full enough. Before either of us can be tempted to ladle a second portion, I take my bowl — and Laurette's — and dunk them in the bucket of wash water before returning them to the cupboard.

Outside, the storm rages so loudly it takes a while to distinguish a pounding on the door from the sound of thunder.

"You locked the door?" I cross the room to open it, as Laurette shows no sign of getting up from her comfortable slouch by the fire.

"Couldn't very well have him coming in while we were changing, could we?"

Scowling over my shoulder, I lift the heavy latch and let the wind push the door. Gagnon enters, rain pouring off his cloak creating a puddle on the floor. He hangs it on a spike and I fetch a bowl to place underneath it, all while he feigns irritation, saying, "That's a fine thing, to lock a man out of his own home on such a night."

"Come, sit," I invite, "and warm up. I'll fetch you a bowl."

He waves me off, but comes to his high-backed chair by the hearth, staring not into the flames, but at the empty dresses stretched across the floor. His is a handsome face, with broad features that give him an appeal much younger than his years. Though Laurette and I are nothing like the girls we were when we first arrived, he remains unchanged. True, he is our patron, but the years between us seem compressed. On evenings like this, I can easily make the mistake of thinking we are peers.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Seamstress"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Allison Pittman.
Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Jocelyn Green

Destined to be a classic in its own right, The Seamstress is everything I love about historical fiction. The robust characters not only interact with real and pivotal events, but they embody the attitudes of the day in ways that are accessible for the modern reader. Pittman’s power of language drew me deep into revolutionary France, and her accurate and sensitive portrayal of the turmoil earned my undying respect. The Seamstress is an intricate tapestry hemmed in truth and grace. A masterpiece.

Gina Dalfonzo

Allison Pittman has taken a minor but memorable Dickens character and created a whole world for her, thoroughly researched and beautifully detailed. The seamstress’s rags-to-riches-to-rags story is an endlessly fascinating and touching one. You’ll find yourself caring deeply not just about her, but also about everyone she cares for.

Lori Benton

In The Seamstress, Allison Pittman has given us a novel of revolutionary France sweeping in its scope, a story of hope and despair, strength and frailty, courage and cowardice seamlessly stitched. With its pages filled with characters who will haunt the heart long after the last is turned, it is a story hemmed in triumph—of the human spirit in the midst of national chaos, but even more of Christ’s infinite love, transcending ideology, reaching alike into palaces and poverty. I finished this novel with a holy hush in my soul.

Joanne Bischof

Set amid the tumultuous French Revolution, The Seamstress is unabashedly profound and yet crafted with such care that I relished every heartrending word until the very last one. Through the lives of vibrant and genuine characters, notes of love, faith, and loyalty rise from its pages—all striking with one unanimous chord of courage. Allison Pittman has woven a novel that fortifies the spirit brick by brick so that as a nation is broken and transformed, so takes new shape yet another landscape: the reader’s heart. The Seamstress is an absolute masterpiece with all the makings of a classic, and is one of the finest novels I have ever read.

Rachel McMillan

The Seamstress is a study in nostalgia: carefully evoking a classic while establishing itself as a classic in its own right. Deftly and intelligently nodding to its magnanimous source material, A Tale of Two Cities, it remains confident as its own entity. Appealing equally to Dickensian readers and the uninitiated, The Seamstress is a lush, moving, and brilliantly sewn world. The thinking reader’s inspirational read, it is at once rich, beguiling, and accessibly readable. Its aftertaste will spoil you for any other story for a long, long while.

Heidi Chiavaroli

In the midst of revolution and royalty, Pittman weaves a captivating tale of two cousins whose humble beginnings birth remarkable journeys. A beautiful, rich tale of love, loss, and amazing faith, The Seamstress is a book that haunts, satisfies, and inspires all at once. I loved this book!

Cathy Gohlke

I finished reading The Seamstress three days ago and can’t stop thinking about it. Well-drawn characters inspired by Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, and exquisite writing in the spirit of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, combine in Pittman’s latest novel of life and faith amid the upheaval of the French Revolution. Researched in great detail, a brilliant and ingenious work, not to be missed.

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