Kendra Forrester had been looking forward to her wedding day for a long while. Since Nick had proposed in fact. After all, it wasn’t everyday that a girl got married. She was besotted by Nick Murphy, and he – she hoped – was equally besotted with her.
Kendra was young. She’d be twenty next month and marriage was something to look forward to, wasn’t it? The trouble was she hadn’t found the right dress. She wasn’t earning enough on her hairdresser’s wage to afford anything expensive.
She was estranged from her mother. Her father had died. After the blazing row she had with the former, the last thing she intended to do was to ask for money. She couldn’t expect her fiancee and his parents to pay for everything either. They were organising the reception at the posh Election Hall of all places.
Her friend Hannah suggested that Kendra search the ‘Want Ads’, since the cheapest dress she could find in a shop was over ￡2,000, and that was a basic shift-style dress. Kendra failed to envisage herself walking down the aisle on Hannah’s father’s arm, or joining Nick at the altar, wearing a dress that was little better than a petticoat. Hannah had offered to help out with the dress, but she had done enough already.
That day, however, Hannah suggested they go and have another look around town, “We’re sure to find your dress, Kend.” Kendra only wished that she shared her friend’s enthusiasm.
“Look ,I’ve got an appointment at the opticians.” Hannah wore thick spectacles because of her astigmatism. With her bubbly curls and pleasant features, she reminded Kendra of a friendly agony aunt.
Hannah worked with Kendra at the hairdressers. Kendra was often caught up in her friend’s bubbly personality. She refused to allow her failing eyesight worry her unduly. Unlike Kendra despairing of ever finding a suitable dress, with her wedding less than a week away.
“Suppose it needs altering?” she moaned.
“Then we’ll alter it,” Hannah announced, slipping an arm about Kendra’s slim shoulders. “Now you go and have a look around. I’ll be awhile in the opticians. We’ll meet at Polly’s Cafe as usual. That’s if it’s okay with you.”
“Of course. But I’ll…”
“And don’t you dare say you won’t find anything. Anyway I have to go.” Hannah paused to flick her watch a hurried glance. “See you at Polly’s.” The two friends exchanged brief farewells, and Kendra started off in the opposite direction.
She realised how that part of town was unfamiliar to her as she wandered into an area she could only describe as quaint. Most of the shop fronts boasted old-style bay windows that more belonged to the Victorian era than the present. The place was called Slater street.
Adjacent to a barber’s shop, she saw them in the window. The two beautiful bride’s dresses. One was fashioned in a silk organdie and worn high to the neck. The other dress was in muslin, and so exquisite that she discovered her jaw dropping involuntarily. An excited, “Wow!” escaped her. She stared at the loveliest dress she had ever seen. Not even all the expensive ones she had looked at in the classier parts of town were as nice as this.
The muslin dress appeared to be more of a creamy colour than white. A sort of yellowy cream as if it were very old. Plus it had a sweetheart neckline. She always adored sweetheart necklines. The sleeves were puffed and trimmed with roses. The bodice was small and fitted. The skirt dropped gently to the floor. While lace trimmed both the tiny waist and the hem of the dress. There was no price tag on the dress, and Kendra was certain that something as lovely as this would undoubtedly cost the earth.
The shop was called ‘The Bridal Suite.’ The blue-fronted bay window appeared to be desperately in need of a coat of paint. The place really did look old. But that dress. Wow! She really should enquire at least, she thought.
Kendra glanced at her watch, and hoped that Hannah wouldn’t be too long at the opticians. She could have used her advice, but she was certain her friend couldn’t fail to be as enthralled with the dress as she was.
A small bell pinged above the door at her entrance. The place looked so old fashioned that she scarcely believed that any of these shops still existed. The shop was filled with all things bridal. Kendra paused to run her fingers over a delicate lace veil that hung above the counter.
A thinly featured woman was sat behind it, her head lowered over a magazine. Jerking her head up quickly, her small black eyes settled on Kendra almost avariciously, or so the latter imagined. A sort of ‘come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly’ sprang into her mind.
“Can I help you, Miss?” The woman’s accent was a cultured well-spoken English. An high-necked blouse was matched with a brown pleated skirt. Her hair was short, neatly permed. Kendra entertained the strangest sensation that the shop and its austere proprieter were so tucked out of the way, that they must have lost touch with the real world.
“The muslin dress in the window. Can you tell me how much it is please?” The smile that appeared on the woman’s face was barely there at all, but it was one Kendra could only describe as sly. All her imagination of course. The Olde Worlde shop was so dark she could have imagined all sorts.
“Oh the price.” The woman crossed to the window to examine the tag at the back of the dress. “￡35.”
“￡35! Is that all?”
“Well, my dear,” the woman almost laughed, but the effort was forced and hollow, “would you like to try it on? There’s a fitting room over there.” A bony hand indicated a beaded curtain to the rear of the counter.
“Please.” Kendra could barely believe her luck. The most exquisite wedding dress she had ever seen, and it was only ￡35.
The woman took but a moment to remove the dress from the mannequin. With it draped over one arm, she invited Kendra to the fitting room.
“You’ll probably need some help, my dear,” the woman said.
Kendra realised who she reminded her of. Mrs Danvers in Hitchcock’s ‘Rebecca.’ Her mannerisms, her very speech, were a positive replica of the sinister housekeeper.
“Yes, of course,” responded Kendra meekly, and followed her into an exceptionally small fitting cubicle that was barely large enough to accomadate both women in spite of the slightness of their statures. The Mrs Danvers lookalike helped Kendra out of her own dress and into the cream lace wedding gown. As she pulled it over her head, adjusting the skirt so that it fell gracefully to the floor, Kendra noticed a small, barely perceptible stain on the right breast. The stain looked a little brown. But when she mentioned it to the assistant, the woman dismissed it as being a trick of the light. Kendra decided that she was probably right. And that the stain was merely in her imagination.
The dress fitted perfectly. It looked so lovely on her, the way it highlighted her skin in the first flush of youth, and afforded her green eyes such a vibrant quality.
“You look exquisite, my dear,” the woman enthused, clapping her hands almost childishly.
As Kendra stood before the mirror admiring herself, she imagined that a hand rested on her waist. She turned instinctively half expecting ‘Mrs Danvers’ to be the one to whom the hand belonged, but she had gone. Kendra was quite alone. How odd, she thought. All at once a strange lightheadedness seemed to wash over her. She began to feel dizzy, her head spinning momentarily.
She was certain there was someone in the room with her. Someone wearing black buckle boots. She could see their feet as if they were peeking from beneath the curtain. Then the image was gone but not the dizziness. On the point of collapse, Kendra called out to the shop assistant. ‘Mrs Danvers’ was there immediately. In her hand she held a glass of water out to Kendra, almost as if she expected it to happen. She quickly helped her off with the dress. As she did, the woman chortled about the stuffiness of the room on such a warm day.
Kendra was beginning to feel better. The dizzy spell had passed and she thanked the woman for her concern. “And the dress?”
“I’ve already packed it for you, Madam,” she responded in her best ‘Mrs Danvers’ voice.
Kendra wrote a cheque for £35 before leaving the shop, all the while wondering if the dizzy spell she had experienced, might be due to pregnancy. She was still having her period, but that dizzy spell was really odd. She had never had one before.
When she met Hannah at Polly’s Cafe, she refrained from mentioning the incident, aware how much her friend would fuss over her. Naturally Hannah was thrilled to learn that Kendra had bought such a beautiful dress for only £35.
“Where did you get it?” she wanted to know.
When Kendra told her the name of the shop, Hannah frowned and admitted that she had never heard of it. She wanted to see the dress, and couldn’t wait until they returned to Kendra’s flat.
“You look a bit pale, Kend,” observed Hannah, a frown puckering her brow. “You okay?”
“I’m fine.” Kendra dismissed her friend’s enquiry.
When they returned to Kendra’s flat, and Hannah suggested that she try on the dress, Kendra was quick to decline with the excuse she was feeling tired.
“You sure you’re okay?” Hannah persisted with concern.
“I’ll be fine, honestly.”
She longed to confide in Hannah all that had happened in the shop that day. When her friend had gone, she wished that she had. Particularily when she hung the dress on her wardrobe door and the sunlight caught the stain, which she was certain that she had not imagined. The stain was about an inch wide and a sort of brownish colour. Maybe it was because the dress seemed so old it had discoloured. That was probably the reason why she had got it so cheaply. Still, if she placed a posy there or something, it might serve to conceal the stain.
Kendra cooked a meal and settled down in front of the television to await the call from Nick. The call came every evening. They, or rather Nick, had decided not to see each other for a week before the wedding. It had concerned her at first, but there was such a lot to do, and he did call her every night.
That evening Kendra was oddly restless. She kept journeying back and forth to her bedroom to take another look at the dress, and recollected the dizzy spell she had experienced. The strange shop assistant. The hand she was certain had slipped around her waist. It seemed that it only happened when she tried on the dress. Suppose she tried it on again? Would the same thing occur? The temptation was too great.
The next thing she knew she was standing before her long wall mirror wearing the muslin wedding gown.
All at once the room began to spin, and she was compelled to hold onto the bedpost for support. When she looked into the mirror again, Kendra Forrester couldn’t fail to emit an involuntary gasp of alarm. The arm slipped against her waist like a sensuous snake. She was aware of the buckled boots. Only this time they belonged to the man into whose arms she had fallen.
He was there with her in her bedroom. She had no idea who he was or how he got in. His eyes were so blackly piercing that she fell spellbound beneath them. She was drawn into their depths without a will of her own. His hair, long and wavy, was as black as his eyes, and pulled back with a ribbon. His athletic frame was barely concealed beneath a white linen shirt. while black velvet breeches were tucked into a pair of high leather riding boots. He was young and handsome.
She heard his voice, strong and masculine inside her head. “Do not be afraid, Lucy my darling. Guy Lewarren will protect you now. No one can touch us, not when I make you my bride.” His lips on hers were soft and warm. Kendra longed to enquire who he was. Where had he come from? What on earth was he talking about?
He said, “They cannot hurt us now.” No matter how much she longed to speak, no sound would come out. All she could feel was this man’s arms about her. Those smouldering black eyes that continued to stare into hers.
“Mine for always…” he murmured.
When the phoned shrilled loudly, the man disappeared as swiftly as he had arrived, leaving Kendra, although frightened at first, strangely disappointed when he had gone.
What had happened? Who was the man?
She quickly changed out of the dress and into her jeans before answering the phone when it rang again.
“You took your time,” came the swift reprimand from her fiance.
“I’m sorry, I… I was in the bath,” she lied.
Their conversation consisted mostly of small talk. Kendra wondered what to tell him if he asked if she had found a dress yet, but he didn’t ask. For some strange reason she neglected to tell him. He wanted to know if she was okay, he thought she sounded a bit odd. She countered that she was merely tired, and they concluded the call.
Unable to erase the memory of the man who had called himself Guy Lewarren from her mind, she telephoned Hannah. Kendra realised that she needed someone to talk to.
While she waited for her friend to arrive, she wandered into her bedroom again, tempted to try on the dress once more. Kendra had to admit that the man was pretty dishy. She gently touched the dress. ‘What untold secrets did it hold?’ she wondered. Was Guy Lewarren merely a product of her imagination? A ghost. The way he had entered her room and had vanished so abruptly. How could he be anything else?
When Hannah arrived, her eyes, behind her big owl glasses, enlarged, and she exclaimed, “Kendra, you do look pale. What’s wrong? ‘Cos I know something is. What’s so urgent?”
Kendra poured out her heart about the evening’s events. The dress. The man in her room. His strange words about someone not touching them anymore.
Hannah plumped her weight into the nearest armchair. “Oh c’mon, Kend, you were dreaming. Pre-wedding nerves and all that.” She shrugged. “Maybe you’ve got doubts about marrying Nick, so you fantasized about some 18th century bloke. Did he look like Nick?”
Kendra shook her head. “Not at all. And I wasn’t dreaming. I’m certain that it has something to do with the dress.”
“And the dizzy spells you mentioned,” reminded Hannah. “Perhaps you ought to see a doctor.”
“Hannah, you’re not listening.” Kendra entertained a twinge of exasperation with her friend. “Every time I put the dress on it seems to happen.”
“It’s just a dress,” Hannah laughed “A lovely dress, but just a dress all the same. Hey, what’s this? ” She broke off. “I hadn’t noticed that stain before.”
“It’s just a stain, Hannah.”
Frowning, Hannah touched a finger to the circular light-brown stain on the otherwise beautiful muslin dress. “It looks like blood,” she declared.
“Blood?” Kendra collapsed onto the bed. “Don’t be ridiculous. Now whose fantasising?”
Hannah shook her head ruefully. “Perhaps you ought to buy something else. Where did you say you bought it from?”
“A place called The Bridal Suite in Slater Street. Anyway I can’t change it now. My wedding is in a couple of days.”
“Maybe you should go and see your doctor before then.”
“After the wedding okay. When we return from honeymoon I’ll go and see him then.”
“Okay, babes, it’s your funeral,” Hannah told her.
The muslin wedding gown was the only one that Kendra wanted. She could have taken it back to the shop, she supposed. But the dress was so beautiful even if it was haunted. Maybe she had imagined Guy Lewarren. Hannah was right. Maybe she had simply been dreaming.
Her wedding day. Hannah helped her with her dress. Kendra had suffered another couple of dizzy spells. Not wishing to alarm her friend she made no mention of them, although they continued to concern her somewhat.
Nick and Kendra were married at St Saviour’s Church. When he took her into his arms and they kissed so passionately, she made an effort to shrug off the memory or dream, or whatever it was, of the man from the 18th century. With tears in her eyes, Hannah told her that she had never seen a lovelier bride, while Nick complemented her on choosing such a beautiful dress.
The sun was bright when they left the church, but the sky had suddenly darkened, black clouds threatened to obscure the afternoon. Photographs of the bride and groom were being snapped all over the place. People she failed to recognise came over to both kiss and congratulate them.
The dizzy spells were becoming more frequent with every flash of the cameras. Putting on a brave face, Kendra continued to smile at everyone.
It was then she observed, although no one else seemed to, the three horsemen approaching the lych-gate. Alarm coursed through her when she saw that the riders faces were masked by black cloths. That they wore long brocade coats and black leather riding boots, their hair tied with black ribbons. Tricorne hats sat on their heads. Spurs dug into their horses flanks. Either they were filming, or the riders belonged to another age. Kendra froze when she realised they appeared to be bearing down on her. That the man in the lead brandished a flintlock pistol.
A scream rose in her throat, but died when she realised that the guests and Nick were completely oblivious of the horsemen.
She barely heard the shot, but she felt the pain and the sensation of warm blood that flowed from her right breast, darkening the white muslin. There was also a terrible pain in her head that was so excruciating, Kendra crumpled to the ground, amidst the shocked gasps of those around her. Nick exclaiming, “Oh my God,Kendra, whatever’s happened?” seemed to issue from a long way off.
Only the man she knew as Guy Lewarren held out a hand to her.
Hannah Westerman’s grief was inconsolable over Kendra’s death. If only she had been firmer in persuading her to go to the doctor’s. Kendra’s face had been the colour of her dress when she left the church. It was obvious that something was wrong. Who was to know that her friend would suffer a brain hemorrhage on her wedding day. The reason for her hallucinations, her dizzy spells. Not that Hannah had any plans to confide in a distraught Nick about the wedding dress
Deciding to do a spot of detective work soon after Kendra’s funeral, Hannah found herself in the local library perusing the history of the area. Her heart thumped when she came across the name Guy Lewarren in an old book.
Either Kendra had discovered the same book, or she really had seen the man the way she described.
1786. Guy Lewarren was the oldest son of one Squire William Lewarren of Warren Park. It seems that Guy was in love with a pretty servant girl named Lucy. The Squire wanted his son to marry into the wealthy Cathcart family. Guy’s marriage to Lucy would have been dishonourable. Squire Lewarren and Sir Harold Cathcart, plus two of his servants, gate-crashed the wedding and shot Lucy in the chest and the right temple.
Hannah could scarcely believe her eyes, now filling with tears. The dress Lucy wore at her marriage to Guy was the exact dress Kendra had worn. Seeking more answers, Hannah paid a visit to Slater Street. It was odd, but no matter how much shoe leather she used, she never found the shop called ‘The Bridal Suite’.
Illustration by Peter Shorney