Had her lavender top hat not been tied onto her head with a thick strand of lace, Yuah was sure that it would have been blown away and lost. The wind whipped around her face and she tightened her grip on the steering wheel. Scenery was flying past her on both sides at an alarming pace—trees, houses, lizardmen, a group of playing boys. Suddenly something appeared at her left elbow. She carefully turned her eyes left without looking away from the road. One of the boys that she had passed was running beside the carriage. A second later, the others had caught up and were running along beside her as well.
“Hey lady!” yelled one boy. “Why don’t you open her up?”
“Yeah!” called another. “We want to see this thing go!”
Yuah turned her attention back to her driving. She was sure that the steam carriage would outpace the children shortly, but they stayed right at her side, encouraging her to increase her speed. When she finally pulled up to the front of Mrs. Bratihn’s, the boys gathered beside the vehicle, scarcely breathing hard.
“Why didn’t you go faster?”
“Yeah, how come?”
Tears welled up in Yuah’s eyes.
“I was going as fast as I could!” She let out a sob.
“Don’t cry, lady,” said the oldest boy, apparently the one who had called out first on the road. “Here. Let me open the relief cock for you.”
Yuah pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and pressed it to her face, as the boy moved around to the back of the vehicle and turned the lever.
“Be sure and don’t –sob– burn your fingers on the steam.”
“What are you boys doing here!” yelled Mrs. Bratihn, shooting out from the door of her shop with her own head of steam. “Get out of here and leave Mrs. Dechantagne alone!”
“We didn’t do nothing!” yelled back one small boy, but they never-the-less went running.
“What did they do to you, dear?” asked the older woman, placing her arm around Yuah’s shoulder, once she had climbed down.
“They didn’t do anything. It’s this damned steam carriage. I hate it, but Terrence wants me to drive it.”
“Did he tell you that you have to drive it?”
“No, but he brought it all the way here from Brech.”
“Come inside and have some tea.”
Yuah followed Mrs. Bratihn into her shop where they both sat down on the couch. Mrs. Luebking, who was already in the process of pouring tea, added another cup and handed one to each of the other women, then took the last for herself and sat down in a chair. Yuah sipped the tea and took a deep breath.
“Now tell me all about it,” said Mrs. Bratihn.
“You know I used to watch the steam carriages zipping around Brech every day and I always thought it would be just ace to have one of my own. But it’s just so bleeding complicated. You have to push in the clutch to shift gears and you have to press down on the forward accelerator just the right amount when you let the clutch out. And you always have to watch the steam gauge or the whole thing might explode. It’s just too much pressure.”
“You should just tell your husband that it’s too much for you,” said Mrs. Bratihn. “Men love it when you act helpless anyway.”
“That may be fine for most,” replied Yuah, putting away the handkerchief. “But I’m a Dechantagne. At least I am now. There are different expectations for me than there are for most women.”
“Maybe you could tell him that you want a driver,” suggested Mrs. Luebking. “Back in Brech, most of the ladies have drivers. After all, driving is a lot of manual labor.”
Yuah was thoughtful for a moment.
“That might work,” she said. “Mrs. Calliere is always saying that women of our station should do less.”
“Mrs. Calliere, your sister-in-law?”
“Oh no, the professor’s mother.”
“Ah,” said Mrs. Bratihn. “There you go. Tell him you need a driver and Bob’s your uncle. Now what else can we do for you today?”
“I need another new dress.”
“My dear, do you even have room in your closets?”
Yuah smiled slightly. “I have spent rather a lot on fashion in the past few months. But this one needs to be different. I need a dress for shrine. It needs to be a little more subdued.”
Mrs. Bratihn and Mrs. Luebking looked at one another.
“I’ll be quite frank, dear,” said Mrs. Bratihn. “I don’t know anything about the requirements of your religion and what might be appropriate for your shrine.”
“Oh, there’s nothing special really. I just need something nice, but simple, without a lot of extras—you know, no feathers or flowers, and not too much brocade.”
“I don’t know…”
“Here. Just a moment.”
Yuah sat down her tea cup, got up, and stepping out the door. She was back a moment later, having retrieved a periodical from the steam carriage. It was the Brysin’s Weekly Ladies’ Journal from Magnius of last year, the newest issue likely to be found in Birmisia. Flipping it open, she showed the dressmaker a photograph of a woman wearing a new creation from Freedonia. The dress was black and simple, featuring black lace around the waist and in a square collar around the neckline. Though it was swept up in back and emphasized with a massive bow, the bow too was black and didn’t stand out from the rest of the dress.
“I think we may be able to do that,” said Mrs. Bratihn. “Yes, yes, I quite like that. It’s simple but elegant. You may become a real trend-setter. I imagine with you wearing that, many women here will want to copy it. Of course you are always good for business, dear.”
“I’m going to need a new hip-bag,” said Yuah, pointing to the enormous back-side of the dress.
“Please,” said Mrs. Bratihn. “Call it a bustle if you must, but here in the store we like to call them dress improvers. We certainly do not call them hip-bags.”
“Well, I’m going to need quite an improvement to my ass, if this picture is any indication.”