It was perhaps the earliest that Yuah had gotten up in a very long time. It was only a biscuit after eight in the morning, but she was wide-awake and full of energy. She washed up and brushed her long hair, before throwing a dressing gown over her nightdress and leaving her bedroom. She met Gladys Highsmith at the top of the stairs.
“Good morning,” said Gladys, smiling broadly. “You’re up early.”
“So are you,” replied Yuah. “Dressed and everything.”
“Oh, I’ve always been an early riser.”
“I used to be,” said Yuah. “Shall we descend and see what will break our fast?”
She held out her arm and Gladys took it and they came down the sweeping staircase, side by side. At the bottom, they found Augie, putting on his jacket.
“Good day, Mother. I’m just on my way out. Busy day and all.” He kissed her on the cheek. “Good day, Miss Highsmith.”
“Good day, Your Lordship. I want to thank you again for welcoming me into your home.”
“Think nothing of it. Any friend of Mother’s is a welcome addition. You are welcome in perpetuity.” With that, he was out the door.
“See?” said Yuah. “I told you he wouldn’t mind.”
“But I’ve been here close to a month.”
“And it’s been my most enjoyable month in a long time.”
They continued on their way into the dining room where Iolanthe was already seated at the head of the table. She was engaged in eating a full breakfast while reading from a stack of correspondence. She looked up briefly, nodded, and then continued with what she had been doing. Yuah and her friend took their seats at the far end of the table from her sister-in-law, and opposite one another. A lizzie servant sat a plate in front of each of them containing eggs, bacon, black pudding, white pudding, beans, sliced tomatoes, mushrooms, and soldiers.
“I have noticed that you don’t pray,” said Gladys.
“We don’t do that,” said Iolanthe, from the far end of the table.
“Um, I pray in the evening, when I’m by myself. I’ve gotten out of the habit of praying at meal time.”
“I’ve never been much for religion myself,” said Gladys, “but I find the Zaeri faith very interesting. I think I would like to go with you next time you go to shrine.”
“That would be lovely,” said Yuah. “I will sit in the back with you, so you aren’t all alone.”
“In the meantime,” continued her friend. “You are the lady of the house. You should be the one who decides if a prayer is given at meals.”
“You are so right,” said Yuah, glaring at Iolanthe.
She bowed her head and felt Gladys take her hand.
“Our Heavenly Father, we give thanks for the bounty placed before us. We likewise give thanks for the health and prosperity of our family and friends. Please forgive us our offenses, as we should forgive those who cause offense to us. Amen.”
“I thought you people prayed in Old Zurian,” said Iolanthe.
“I said the prayer in Brech for the benefit of you and Gladys.”
“If it had been for my benefit, you should have prayed for death to my enemies,” said Iolanthe, getting up. “Or at least, for a better offer on coal from Pearce and Hallbourgh.”
“Your sister-in-law is a hard woman,” said Gladys, after Iolanthe had left.
“Let’s not talk about her,” said Yuah. “Do you have plans for today?”
“I would imagine that you want me to get out and find a place of my own.”
“Why ever would you imagine that? Does it look as if we’re overcrowded? The answer to that is no. You should plan on staying here as long as you want. Stay until you meet a nice young man and agree to marry him.”
“I don’t think that’s ever going to happen,” said Gladys.
“Maybe I am.”
“Maybe I am too,” said Yuah. “I loved Terrence from my very earliest memories. When we finally got together, we ended up having so little time.”
“Did you enjoy being with him? The physical act of love?”
“It wasn’t like you read in the books. I wasn’t swept away with love and mad with desire. In some ways, the whole thing is quite odd.” Yuah’s mouth curled into a secret smile. “Terrence wasn’t caring or sensitive. Not really. He was very… um, skilled, I suppose. He knew what to do to make me feel however he wanted me to feel. In some ways I felt like an instrument that he was playing—masterfully playing.”
“Will you marry again, do you think?”
“No,” said Yuah. “The thought of any other man pawing me or climbing on me, just has no appeal. The long and the short of it then is that you may stay here forever, as far as I’m concerned.”
“Well then,” said Gladys. “What are your plans today? Maybe I could tag along with you.”
“Of course. I thought I would shop for some new fall clothes this morning. Later, I’m having tea with Egeria. I could use your help in both of those situations. I always feel like an imbecile whenever I talk to Egeria, and of course, shopping is always more fun with friends.
An hour later, Walworth was driving the two women to Mademoiselle Deneuve’s. The Mirsannan woman brought them each a glass of wine and had them sit while she finished with several other women. Yuah saw the three customers, none of whom she knew, cast furtive glances in her direction as they passed behind the curtain to change.
“They’re whispering about me right now,” she told her companion.
“Well of course they are,” said Gladys. “You’re the most beautiful woman in Birmisia Colony, as well as being His Lordship’s mother. Why wouldn’t they whisper about you? Half of them admire you and the other half are merely jealous.”
“Do you really think so? Maybe there’s something wrong with me. Do I have a pimple?”