Etiquette & Espionage / Page 12

Page 12

The entire airship lurched to one side and then righted itself. An odd sensation, since, until that moment, Sophronia had quite forgotten they were afloat.

Several of the girls screamed.

Displaying the speed he had only recently described, Professor Braithwope dashed out the door. Rather than waiting to be told to stay put, Sophronia leapt up and followed him.

The hallway was in chaos, filled mainly with young ladies, most of them covered in some kind of soot. Apart from the soot, they were all dressed beautifully, and were chattering among themselves with more animation than distress. Sophronia estimated around two dozen or so; perhaps half the attendees of the school? She hadn’t yet managed a firm grasp on the numbers, but Mademoiselle Grenadine’s seemed to have fewer students than one would expect from a normal finishing school.

Professor Lefoux, taller than most by a head, was trying to control the chaos.

“Now, ladies, calm down, do! Is this any way to behave in a crisis? What has Lady Linette told you time and time again?”

The girls quieted and stood expectantly. One or two took out handkerchiefs and began trying to repair the sooty damage to gown and face.

“That was not a rhetorical question, ladies!” snapped the Frenchwoman. Professor Lefoux herself was far more soot-covered than any of the others, and less inclined to deal with it. She had her hair back in a tight bun that appeared to pull her skin away from her eyes. It made her look like a greyhound that had stuck its head out a carriage window.

“In a crisis, remain calm,” called out one voice from the crowd.

“And?” Professor Lefoux gestured impatiently with both hands.

“Assess any damage to one’s attire. A lady is never disreputable in public, unless intended for manipulation of sympathies.”

“Good. Anything more?”

“Ascertain the nature of the emergency. See if it can be turned to your advantage or used as an opportunity to gather information,” said another voice.

While all this was going on, Sophronia—unconsciously following the instructions being repeated dutifully around her—made her way through the crowd to the open door of Professor Lefoux’s classroom. Professor Braithwope stood on the threshold, staring in. He had out his own handkerchief and was waving it about in front of his face ineffectually, trying to dispel the smoke still permeating the room.

Sophronia nudged up next to him and looked inside. A proper classroom. There were uncomfortable-looking chairs facing tables covered in interesting-looking apparatus and scientific instruments. The walls were tacked with sketches of complex devices. The room, like the hallway, was in chaos. It might have started life as some kind of laboratory or engineering chamber, but its contents were now overturned, smoked, and covered liberally in black powder.

“I suppose Professor Lefoux and her students haven’t had much luck in creating an alternate prototype,” said Sophronia mildly.

“Whot?” The vampire sucked on a fang, looking thoughtful. He turned dark eyes on his newest student. “Appears as if they haven’t. Wait a moment there, whot! Where did you come from, young lady?”

“Your class, sir. Remember, we were just there.”

The vampire only looked at her, not even acknowledging her levity. “Tell me, Miss Temminnick. What was the first thing you wanted to know, just now, before the explosion?”

Sophronia saw no reason to prevaricate. If he really wanted a window to her thoughts, then any possible rudeness was irrelevant. “Your range, sir. Being that you’re a rove, as I’m assuming this school is no hive, I was wondering how a vampire in a dirigible managed to float all over the place the way you do. Then I figured you must be bound to the school itself, or something like.”

“Something like, indeed.”

“Then I was wondering, since you were instructing us in defense against vampires, what would happen if you fell overboard. What would happen to your tether? Would it snap? Would you die?”

The vampire narrowed his eyes, looking down his nose at her. He avoided her question by asking her one of his own. “And the explosion—what do you make of it?”

“Perhaps Professor Lefoux should not have tried steel first.”

“My goodness, you do pay attention.”

“Will you be able to convince Monique to tell you where she stashed the prototype?”

He said nothing at that.

But she’s only a student. Sophronia wanted to ask why they didn’t torture Monique or something. After all, this seemed as if it might be that kind of school.

Professor Lefoux came bustling over. “Ah, Professor Braithwope. Sorry to disturb. Little problem with the you-know-what, probably shouldn’t have used steel. Copper is obviously superior.”

Professor Braithwope looked down at Sophronia, who gave the vampire an arch look and returned to his classroom and the other girls.

They were crowding the doorway, but had not followed her beyond leaving their own seats.

“What happened?” Dimity asked breathlessly.

“Someone seems to have exploded something black and powdery in the room next to ours.”

“Professor Lefoux and the fourth years,” said Monique, no doubt preferring to have been among them herself, explosion or no.

Sophronia returned to her couch and took a seat, crossing her hands demurely in her lap.

Dimity plopped down next to her. “Was it the…?” she hissed.


“What could explode like that?”

“Lots of things, I suspect.”

“Sometimes I wish Pill were still with us. He knows all about accidental explosions. Then again, he is my brother, so it’s nice to be away from him.”

“I managed to extract a bit of the black powder.” Sophronia showed Dimity the fingertip of one of her gloved hands, which she’d purposefully run along the wall inside Professor Lefoux’s classroom.

“I wonder if we could send it to Pill for analysis. Or, uh, drop it to him, I guess is a better way of putting it.”

“Do we get post on board this thing?” Sophronia wondered. “If no one even knows where the school is at any given time, how would mail find us?”

“Mummy said she would send me some of my favorite emulsified biscuits, so it must. She mentioned Pillover as well, so perhaps we pick ours up from Bunson’s.”

“Oh, dear, Sophronia, your glove is dirty! Let me help you with that.” Preshea looked more distressed by the black on Sophronia’s white fingertip than she had been by the explosion.

Monique said, “You aren’t permitted to have a soiled glove, not at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s!”

Sophronia quickly placed her hand in her lap and tucked the offending digit under a fold of skirt. “Oh, I believe I have the glove under control, thank you.”

“Right, ladies, shall we get back to our studies?” Professor Braithwope said as he reentered the room. “We are going to try to address first the best and most deadly application of wooden stakes, hatpins, and hair sticks. If we have time, I will move us on to how to properly judge a gentleman by the color and knot of his cravat. Believe you me, ladies, the two subjects are far more intimately entangled than you might first suppose.”

Sophronia straightened her spine and prepared to be educated.


The rest of the evening proceeded in a much milder manner. They moved from classroom to classroom for every new teacher, each professor having arranged his or her room to their own particular taste. Each time the lesson was more in the manner of a visiting call or an intellectual salon than any school lesson Sophronia’s siblings had ever relayed to her.

Sister Mathilde Hershel-Teape’s room, which led out onto a small deck, was half potting shed, half manor-house kitchen. Their lesson was on emulsification and the fine art of egg whites as applied to sugared violets, fake eyelashes, skin care, and poison control. She left them with the wise, if somewhat confusing, “Now, remember, my dears, a separated egg is worth two in the bush.”

Lady Linette’s room was a combination conservatory, boudoir, and house of ill repute. It featured a good deal of red, three chubby, long-haired cats with funny, scrunched-up faces, fringe wherever fringe might be stuck, and some highly questionable artwork. The girls sat in prim rows on long velvet fainting couches. A stuffed duck in a lace mobcap stared austerely down at them from the mantelpiece.

By the end of Lady Linette’s lesson on how to faint properly at any event and in a manner to cope with varying types of undergarments, Sophronia was yawning hugely. It had, after all, been a long day full of travel, excitement, and now classes that persisted well past her regular bedtime.

“Ladies don’t yawn in public,” Monique said loudly, so as to draw Lady Linette’s attention to the transgression.

“You’ll get used to the London hours eventually, country girl,” Preshea added.

“I suppose you’re from London?” Sophronia had a countryside suspicion of towns.

“My parents keep progressive hours,” the girl replied, avoiding the question in a manner that suggested this was a sore point.

“Miss Temminnick, Miss Buss, Miss Pelouse, if you’re quite finished? Miss Buss, it is as embarrassing to remark upon a behavior as it is to enact it. Of course, Miss Pelouse is, as always, correct, Miss Temminnick. Perhaps, Miss Pelouse, as you know everything so well, you would like to demonstrate fainting in a crowded ballroom in a manner that might attract only the attention of a specific gentleman? Without wrinkling your dress.”

Sophronia was enthralled by the odd way in which the teachers treated Monique. They made it clear her demotion was a punishment, yet sometimes it was almost as if Monique had a kind of control over them. Which must tie into how she has gotten away with not revealing the prototype’s location. Then there were times like this, when she was called out and made an example of.

Monique stood and did as instructed.

Lady Linette critiqued the faint closely as Monique executed it.

“Note both hands raised to the forehead. A classic maneuver, but perhaps overly dramatic for a large crowd; you might draw too much attention. Try only one, pressed to the breast. That has the added benefit of drawing a gentleman’s gaze to your décolletage. Not that you younger ladies have any yet, but we can hope. No, not pressed so hard. Miss Pelouse, you’ll skew your gown’s neckline. Very nice. Now, a short breath and a small sigh. Eyes rolling slightly back. Only slightly! Otherwise one looks like a dying sheep. Flutter the eyelashes. Flutter them! More fluttering. Lovely. And sag back slightly. Always backward, ladies, never topple forward. And be certain to situate yourself so that if the gentleman does not respond appropriately, you can pretend to catch yourself against the wall or mantelpiece and make a recovery. Very nice, Miss Pelouse. Very realistic.”

Sophronia yawned again.

“Sophronia,” Dimity whispered, “what are we going to wear to sleep in tonight?”

“Goodness knows. Our petticoats, I suppose.” For all Sophronia knew, their luggage still lay scattered in the road leagues away.

Such was not the case, as it transpired. After being let out from Lady Linette’s class—“Practice your eyelash-fluttering, ladies. Six rounds of one hundred each before bed”—she and the other girls went to supper in the back section of the school. The recreation balloon, as the others called it, was much the same as all the others, only with larger, grander, and fewer rooms. Supper completed, their manners closely monitored by the teachers and Sophronia’s knuckles rapped twice for her misuse of a fish knife, they returned to their quarters. The debuts found Sophronia’s battered portmanteau and Dimity’s cases neatly stacked in their parlor.

The girls were divided into two per room, Preshea seeming honored to have been selected by Monique as the best of a bad lot of options. Sophronia was delighted to find Agatha willing to vacate her abode to settle in with Sidheag so that Sophronia and Dimity might share.

“Do you think Monique has some kind of control over the teachers?” Sophronia asked the moment they were left alone. Bumbersnoot woke upon their return and followed Sophronia dutifully into her new room, then paced back and forth as she unpacked.

“How could she?” Dimity pulled out her underthings furtively and stuffed them quickly into a drawer.

Sophronia gave her a look.

“Her family, I suppose. Although I’ve never heard of them, so they can’t be that important or that evil.” Dimity moved on to less embarrassing apparel: dresses, pinafores, petticoats, slippers, and boots.

Sophronia unpacked her own bags. For the first time in her life, she was slightly embarrassed by her own wardrobe. Her family was largely considered, by the surrounding gentlefolk, to be one of means. But she was still the youngest of four girls, and with three older sisters to clothe, she found her own dresses deficient. She was already composing a begging letter home in her head.

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