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What You Call Frippery

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"The navy silk chiffon as well," Etta said, nodding with satisfaction. "And the serge walking suit, but with the red velveteen trim, more becoming with her complexion, I should think."

"Certainly, madame," the shop girl said, scribbling down additions to the already lengthy order. "Will you still be requiring any of the shoes?"

"Oh heavens yes," Etta said, tapping on some of the boxes which lay strewn around the dressing area. "The brown kid-top boot, the grey cloth-top pair, that low pump in all the colours you have—oh, and we shall need to look at whatever you've got new in millinery. Only none with feathers, I don't quite think we'll be able to win her over when it comes to feathers."

"Of course, madame," the shop girl said, bustling off. She had a bright gleam in her eyes at the prospect of making such a fine sale. Etta didn't begrudge it to her, not when buying such a quantity of clothing would also relieve Etta's purse of the weight of some of Sir Patrick Morgan's money. Wretched man. It wasn't a very Christian thought, but Etta found herself quite glad to know that he'd been blown into very small pieces.

"I don't see why all of this is necessary," Diana said as she emerged from the changing booth, interrupting Etta before her thoughts could take a decidedly morbid turn. "All I needed were some fresh clouts and some cloth to make a new winter cape. Most of the mud came out of everything else."

"Oh, you look a picture," Etta said with great satisfaction, clasping her hands together. Just as she'd hoped, it all set off Diana's colouring to perfection—the bright tulle layered over the ivory twilled cloth, the bodice worked to be a masterpiece of beadwork armour. "Like something out of a child's storybook, or a Shakespeare play about Boudicca—cloth of gold, you know, very striking."

"It itches," Diana said with a frown. She turned to look at herself in the mirror, hands planted on her hips, which Etta thought was no way to treat a creation of the House of Worth. Etta would have given her eye-teeth to be able to afford one of their ensembles—and rather more to have the silhouette needed to carry it off.

"It is beautiful," Etta said firmly. "Besides, we've talked about this. You can't wear your regular clothes to the ball, missie, and that's final."

"I don't understand why there must be a ball to raise money in the first place," Diana said, trying to look over her shoulder at the train of her gown. "Men who fought for their country and were wounded—why aren't they being cared for already, their needs met? Shouldn't sacrifice be greeted with honour?"

"Your guess is as good as mine," Etta said with a sigh. It seemed as if her life these days was nothing more than an endless round between the Ministry and the Ladies' Aid Society—dealing with the aftermath of the war in one, of the influenza epidemic in the other, and feeling as if she was gaining ground in neither place. "By which I mean, it's the exact same guess as yours but we're going to at least aspire to being genteel so no bad language inside the department store, hmm?"

"I do not aspire to that," Diana said, turning and beginning to undo the buttons that ran down the back of the dress with rough tugs. Etta, biting back a minced oath, bustled to take over so that neither the buttons nor the beautiful embroidery—the work of so many women over so many days—would be destroyed. "It is… what does Charlie call it, a humbug? Gentility is a humbug. Why should I care what people think about petticoats when there is so much misery yet in the world?"

"Because those holding the strings of the pocketbook are men, and because you've got a face like that!" Etta snapped, quite a bit more tartly than she'd intended to. "Which means they won't listen to you unless you're dressed the way they expect the long-lost niece and newly found heiress of a wealthy baronet to behave, which means having combed hair and wearing skirts that don't show your knees. It won't get you respect as such, but it's a darned sight better than the alternative."

Diana whipped around and peered at her. She clearly reconsidered whatever she had been about to say. "You are serious," she said instead, with what sounded like an unwarranted degree of surprise, in Etta's opinion.

"I am," Etta said, folding her arms. "But you can keep that tiara of yours on. Nothing awes your City type like a good tiara. We'll let slip it's a family heirloom and their minds will go straight to thinking you're something out of a Ruritanian romance, we'll have them eating out of your hands in no time."

"You know, I rarely understand a thing you are talking about," Diana said mournfully, right as the shop girl returned with an armful of hatboxes and petticoats.

"That's quite all right, dear," Etta said, because she'd spent a very long time having no one pay attention to a blessed word she said, and getting things done regardless. "Now, let's start with the tea hats, shall we?"