For part 2 of Ursa Minor, click here.
When Mary didn’t instantly appear–it had been too much to hope she would be within shouting distance–Ursula dashed to the bell pull and tugged it vigorously. Her aunt would no doubt protest the heartiness of both the shout and the bell-ringing, but what Matilda didn’t know couldn’t hurt Ursula.
While she waited for her maid’s arrival, Ursula did what she could to hasten the process of amending her appearance. The gloves were hopelessly soiled, of course, and the whangdoodle–damn Uncle Archie and his lexicon, it was a Tesla coil, no engineer with any self respect whatever would be caught dead calling it a whangdoodle–had left smudges of soot and what was probably engine grease on the lavender skirt kilted up on her hip. Though just what the Tesla coil had been doing covered in engine grease remains to be seen, Ursula thought darkly. Her ruminations on the chaos of her father’s workshop gave way quickly to another frequent irritation as she scrabbled ineffectually at the tiny buttons that fastened her gown.
“Miss–Oh dear, miss,” said Mary, rushing to Ursula as soon as she entered the room. “You know you’ll only pull the seams if you keep doing that,” the maid fussed as she began unhooking the buttons.
“Well, if they would just use larger buttons,” Ursula began, “or put them on the front of ladies’ clothes the way they do men’s, or–“
“Or come up with some other fashionable silhouette that didn’t place the buttons directly between one’s shoulder blades, where they are impossible to reach,” Mary finished with her. “Miss Ursula, the empire style is very flattering, even…” She trailed off, and Ursula didn’t have to see her face to know the maid was blushing.
“Even on me, yes,” Ursula sighed. “No, don’t fuss about it, we both know it’s true. I don’t suppose I have another tea gown?” she asked somewhat forlornly as Mary pulled the lavender up over her head.
“No,” said Mary, clucking over the stains on the skirt of the lavender gown.
No doubt she’s shocked I even own one. My own maid doesn’t even think I’m a lady. “Okay, next best option,” said Ursula bracingly. She sank onto the bench before her vanity and began unlacing the workman’s boots she’d “borrowed” from Beckett some three years before.
Mary draped the soiled gown over the back of a chair and opened the wardrobe. She contemplated for several minutes, lips pursed, before nodding and saying, “I have it, miss. The pale green silk.”
“Isn’t that a bit formal for afternoon tea with an old family acquaintance?” Ursula asked, but she was already digging through a drawer for the long ivory gloves which set off the color of the silk magnificently, even if they did tend to make her look rather paler even than was fashionable.
“It is ostensibly and evening gown, yes,”–I knew that much, thought Ursula grumpily–“but with the proper fichu, say, the one with the ivy embroidery, it will do for a first meeting with a prospective suitor,” Mary said decisively, pulling the gown out of the wardrobe.
“I don’t suppose, just for my sake, we could pretend that Aunt Matilda is not about to marry me off to Humpty-Dumpty?” Ursula sighed as Mary whisked the gown down over her head and began to do up the buttons. Thank heavens the cut was similar to the lavender tea gown; they didn’t have time to fuss with petticoats or changing her corset.
“No,” said Mary shortly. It was a sign of how rushed they were–and perhaps, Ursula dared to hope, some small token of sympathy–that the maid didn’t chide her for using Humphrey’s least favorite childhood nickname.
“You are a miracle worker,” Ursula said as Mary deftly tucked the sheer fichu around her shoulders. “I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“Suffer your aunt’s unending wrath, miss,” said Mary. “Now go, before you get me in trouble as well as you!”
There is a cat on my stomach. This is not a helpful place for the cat to be.
I did get to Ursula, though a little later than I had planned…the story is going somewhere, I promise. Stay tuned next week to find out what sort of disaster our little bear manages to make of tea with the Marshalls…