"Hold still, mademoiselle." Madame Obadiah Oglethorpe, finest reasonably-priced dressmaker in the eastern half of the city, knelt and began pinning up Lyta's hem. She did her best not to move, hardly daring to breathe, but the obstinate fabric insisted on quivering. "Relax," said Madame Oglethorpe. "You are too stiff. It is not good for the fit."
Lyta breathed. She tried to smooth the fabric of her gown. It had to be perfect. She would have only one chance, after all. One chance to escape this marriage.
"Too much breathing." Madame Oglethorpe stilled Lyta's hands. "Don't fret. The young ladies, they always fret." She tapped her work. "You see, I have given you a fine crenelated hem -- the Piedmontese a le coeur -- inspired by the finest ladies of the French court, gathered at the waist to make a fetching silhouette." She returned to pinning up the forest green fabric. "There is a young man, yes?"
Lyta thought she would tumble off the pedestal.
The discussion between Father and Father Craddock had gone on for hours. Lyta, banished to her room, could distinguish few of the words, but Father's angry tones were unmistakable. After Father Craddock left came the shouting. Father was outraged at Lyta for rejecting Martin, for rejecting his choices, for involving an outsider like Father Craddock, for dragging the family name through the mud, the list of outrages never seemed to end.
After a week of silent glares and shouting matches whenever she left the room, Lyta could stand it no longer. She marched into the kitchen and threw the shop's account books onto the table.
"Clara and Annabelle have been to the masquerade six times, looking for husbands, and you haven't let me go even once." She banged open the most recent book, showing her work. "I have saved us a thousand dollars this year, so why don't I get to go?"
Father looked aghast. "You would sacrifice a good husband just to attend that base, degenerate gathering?"
"No!" Lyta clutched the book, her fingers nearly tearing out the page. "I just want the same chance they had to find someone I love!"
He had finally decided that they would not breathe a word of this to Martin, but Lyta might attend the masquerade for the sole purpose of finding a husband -- and if she did not, then she would marry him promptly.
The back door opened and in breezed Great-aunt Beatrice, loaded down with bolts of silk. She pointed at Lyta's neckline as she passed. "Too low. Get some lace on there and bring it up."
"But it is the fashion, Auntie. Half the ladies in the street have lower necklines."
"Your father will not have you parading around half-naked like a common strumpet."
Lyta sighed. The dressmaker gave her a sympathetic glance and began dutifully adding lace to the top of the bodice.
Beatrice winked at Lyta and unrolled a bolt of silk on the dressmaker's table. "Now, don't you think this will make a lovely dress for the mother of the brides? Don't tell Nancy, I want to surprise her."
"Mother is waiting for us in the front of the shop," she said, and Great-aunt Beatrice laughed in her horsey way and gathered up the cloth with mock stealth.
She patted Lyta's hand. "Keep your chin up. You won't find a husband while slouching."
Lyta turned and frowned at her dress in the mirror. Would he like it? No mud and sleet this year. She wanted him to catch sight of her and feel a pang in his heart such as she had felt every day since his lips had brushed her cheek. The thought that he might not even attend was simply unbearable. He had to be there. He'd promised.
After the dressmaker's, they visited the shops for bonnets and masks. Sadly, none of them seemed to have any magic charms. Great-aunt Beatrice and her mother kept up a continuous chatter about what to expect at the masquerade, how to comport herself, talk to men, not talk to men, how to eat, what to eat, etc.
"But if a respectable young fellow offers you a drink, you must accept it," admonished Beatrice, "or he will feel snubbed."
If she were going to Hell for falling in love with a demon, she didn't think her neckline or manners mattered all that much.