“Part of playing the part—of not being suspected—is dressing it,” Sophia reminded her.
The needle, it turned out, was used for the stays’ laces. Etta could smell the leather as Sophia worked the needle through eyelets on either side of the opening. The fabric was stiff, and the boning bit into her skin as Sophia pulled, tightened, pulled, and tightened again. Etta’s posture changed, straightening, until she was sure she was at least three inches taller.
“Leave the laces in when you undress, only loosen them,” she said, “and slide it off. You’ll want to dress quickly on a ship of men.”
“O…kay,” Etta gasped out, tugging at the strings to loosen them. Sophia batted her hand away.
“You’ve ruined the nicer of the three gowns I bought you,” she said. “But I suppose it hardly matters, seeing as we won’t be dining with the crew. Both of these are in the robe á l’anglaise fashion.”
“Translation?” Etta slipped another wool underskirt up to her hips and almost fainted at the sudden, sweet warmth of it.
“The bodices are closed, see? You won’t need a stomacher to cover the stays.” Sophia pressed the gown against her chest. “You forgot the stockings and garters. They’re easier to do without the bulk of petticoats.”
Etta blew out a sigh as she picked up the silky strips of fabric, bent to pull one up over her right leg, secured it with a ribbon just above the knee, and started on the left side. Sophia knew a considerable amount about this—but she clearly wasn’t from the “rustic” eighteenth century.
“How old are you, exactly?” Sophia asked, returning to the bed again. “That’s my next question.”
“Seventeen,” Etta said, pulling the gown over her head. “How old are you?”
“Seventeen,” Sophia said. “And a half.”
Of course. Etta fought the pathetic urge to point out that she still had her beat—she was only a few months shy of turning eighteen.
“Are you really good enough to play the violin professionally?”
Etta’s fingers slipped against the ribbon that she was attempting to knot tightly enough to keep the stockings up, but loosely enough to keep blood flowing to her leg. She didn’t have to give her the whole truth. “I think so.”
“And your father—your future husband—” A swell of a wave passing under them sent Sophia falling back onto the bed. Once she was down, she stayed there.
“—your future husband,” Sophia ground out, her face squeezed tight against another burst of nausea. “They would allow you to work? Even after you had children?”
Odd question. “Well, as I said, I don’t know who my father is,” Etta said. “But no one can or will tell me what to do with my life once I turn eighteen. At least, they can’t force a decision on me.”
Sophia watched her, eyes glassy. “Is that true?”
Etta knew what her next question should have been, but another one pressed itself onto her tongue. “What century are you from? I have two questions this round, by the way.”
“I’m from every century,” Sophia said, with a dismissive wave. “My natural time, the year I was born, was 1910. Philadelphia. I haven’t been back then since…forever.”
“Where is the other opening of the passage located—the one that leads to the Met?”
Sophia burst out laughing. “As if I would ever tell you. As if it would actually matter if I did. Do you even know what ocean we’re on?” She seemed to realize her mistake a second later. “That wasn’t a question!”
“Yes it was, and yes I do. It’s the Atlantic, isn’t it?” Etta didn’t need Sophia to respond to know she was right. “Is it—” She paused, trying to think of the right question. “How did we get on this ship?”
“We came through the passage. You were unconscious. I changed you into era-appropriate clothing and we both traveled to the docks to board this ship. It was the only one leaving out of—out of that particular port that could make Grandfather’s requested arrival time. The issue was, this vessel was bound for England, so he hired that…that rat to capture it and bring it into port in New York, where he’s waiting for us.”
Those were far more answers than Etta ever could have hoped for. Sophia must have been getting tired to let so much slip.
“Can you wet this rag for me?” The other girl threw it. Etta caught it between two fingers, holding it out in front of her.
“Sure,” she said, “and that was a question, by the way.”
Sophia narrowed her eyes. “Damn you!”
“Why was I brought here?” Etta interrupted. “Why did you have to come get me?”
“Those are two different questions with two different answers,” Sophia said. “To the former, I don’t know. I’m not allowed to ask such things. To the latter, because I was told to.”
“That’s three, and a stupid one, seeing as I’ve already told you.”
Etta swore. She had—Grandfather. Disgust coiled in her.
The question was small, quiet when it finally emerged from Sophia’s pale lips. “When do women get the right to vote?”
Etta blinked, surprised again. Of all the things she could have asked…“You have passages to different eras, right? Do you seriously not know?”