Well, “tear” is a bit euphemistic. The problem with my hem is less of a tear and more of a massive, unbearable gash in the green satin. This is why I can’t have nice things.
In the last month, I’ve discovered that I’m utterly useless at a ball. In fact, when I received Lady B’s invitation, I very nearly turned it down, knowing that precisely this kind of thing would happen. Torn hem, ratafia dumped down the back of Wellington’s coat, accidentally speaking my mind, it’s all entirely possible when I’m in attendance.
So, to be completely honest, I was pretty happy when Lady B peered meaningfully at my hem, trailing hopelessly along behind me, and pointed in the direction of the ladies’ salon. Salvation! Entering, I find myself a too-dainty chair in the corner of the miraculously empty room, and perch nervously while considering my next course of action.
My feet are killing me. The shoes are gorgeous…but painful. I will never learn that particular lesson. I’m cursing sadistic footwear designers when I realize I’m no longer alone.
There’s a girl standing just inside a door I hadn’t noticed, wide-eyed. It takes me a moment to realize that her surprise has nothing to do with my being there, and a great deal to do with my being foul-mouthed. I smile, trying to impress upon her that I was not, in fact, raised by wolves (indeed, I was raised by a rather proper English mother, who would be *horrified* to hear her youngest child cursing like a sailor).
“Hi!” I say, brightly.
She does not seem convinced. She dips a curtsy and looks away, rushing to a nearby table where a lovely carved ebony box sits. She opens the box and busies herself with the contents.
She casts a look over her shoulder that telegraphs shock more than anything else. “Miss,” she says, turning away again before she lifts a spool of green thread from the box and says, “May I help you with your hem?”
“You don’t have to stand on ceremony with me,” I say, feeling more than a little bit uncomfortable as she crouches at my feet. “If you give me the thread, I can repair it. I took Home Ec. in the 9th Grade. Mrs. Iacobucci would be thrilled that I finally have a chance to use my knowledge of seamstressing.”
The young woman squints up at me, as though I am speaking in another language. Of course, I am speaking in another language. She doesn’t know what Home Ec is. Or the 9th Grade. And Home Ec. Teachers from Lincoln, Rhode Island, well…
I hurry to repair my verbal damage. “Mrs. Iacobucci is a rather talented seamstress where I come from. She’s Italian.”
Understanding flashes in the young lady’s eyes. “Italians are very well thought of as modistes, I hear.”
“Oh yes. And other projects as well…This one taught me how to sew a stuffed S.”
The maid blinks.
I soldier on. “It’s quite difficult, you know. An S is one long curve.”
Now she clearly thinks I’m mad. “Yes, ma’am.” She turns back to my hem and begins to sew.
I lean my chin on my hand and watch for a bit. This girl is a pro. “What’s your name?”
She blushes. “Maggie, ma’am.”
I could do without the ma’am, frankly, but I let it slide. “It’s nice to meet you, Maggie.” She sews. I press on. “How many of these do you repair on a given night?”
She looks up at me, clearly surprised that I’m taking an interest in her. After all, no one takes interest in the maids in ladies’ salons. Except writers, I think. Writers know that maids in ladies’ salons know EVERYTHING.
“Thirty. Sometimes more.”
She keeps sewing. “Oh, I’m sure I don’t know.”
I lower my voice. “I heard the Duchess of Leighton and Lady Davis had a great row here once. Did you witness it?”
“That wasn’t here. It was at Dolby House.”
She hasn’t looked up from her work, but I know I have her. I feign surprise. “Oh, was it? I could have sworn it was here. Wasn’t Albert involved?”
She shakes her head. “Not here. It was…” she lowers her voice to a whisper, “the betrothal ball.”
“The duke and duchess’s betrothal ball?”
“No!” This girl loves gossip. Just as all great ladies’ maids should. Her needle pauses. She looks up at me, excitement in her eyes. “The first betrothal ball.”
Now, I know about this one. But I wonder how much *she* knows about this one. I lean forward. “Tell me.”
“I wouldn’t like to speak out of turn…”
“Oh, please do…after all, what else are we to do? It would be rude for us not to talk, don’t you think?”
“Welllll,” she draws out the syllable, clearly trying to figure out if I’m going to run to Lady B and tattle. Which, of course, I’m not. Because I get much of my information from ladies’ maids. I can’t have them all talking about how untrustworthy I am. I’m Woodward to their Deepthroat. We have a mutual agreement.
“The Duke was betrothed to Lady Penelope Marbury before he married the duchess.”
“I heard…” I lean forward as her voice lowers. “I heard the duke and duchess have a remarkable love match…and there wasn’t much that Lady Penelope could do to stop it once it had begun. Poor dear…” she trails off, focusing on a particularly shabby part of the tear in my skirt. “She couldn’t have expected it.”
“Do you think Lady Penelope loved Leighton?”
“I couldn’t say. But for her sake, I hope not. After all, there’s only one thing worse than a betrothal broken in scandal…”
“A betrothal to someone you care for broken in scandal.”
Sage words from the young seamstress.
“So what happened to Lady Penelope?” I press.
The little seamstress frowns and turns back to her work. “She’s a spinster.”
She says the word like it’s the worst kind of secret. The kind you don’t talk about, even in ladies’ salons. “No one came along after Leighton?”
“A broken engagement is a bit more of a scandal than most of these nobs can handle, it seems. She’s well-and-truly on the shelf.”
I sit back in my chair as she finishes the repair. She’s really quite good with the needle. And with the gossip.
“Thank you, Maggie.”
She blushes. People don’t thank servants in the Regency. It’s one of the horrid truths that I like to pretend is no truth at all. “Thank you, ma’am.”
“What if I paid you for the service in a bit of gossip?” Her brows rise and I see that she can’t resist. “Lady Penelope is about to topple off her shelf.”
Maggie’s eyes go wide. “Really?”
“Oh yes.” This, I know. “You mark my words. Come February, Lady Penelope Marbury will be a spinster no longer.”
“Cor!” She says, a smile lighting her face. “Wait until the others hear that!”
I stand, wincing as I’m reminded of my devastatingly painful shoe situation. “You didn’t hear it from me, of course.”
She shakes her head. “Certainly not.”
It’s official. Lady B’s ladies’ salon is top notch.
So…tell us…what’s the strangest thing that you’ve ever overheard in a ladies’ salon (or a ladies’ room)?