Etiquette & Espionage / Page 24

Page 24



“Oh, goodness. How will we get it back? Someone might realize it was mine!”


“Not a chance. See?” Soap pointed down out of the hatch, which the sooties had cracked open slightly. He had his eyes pressed to the gap.


Sophronia went over and joined him. She looked down.


Captain Niall, having apparently resigned himself to losing his quarry, was savaging her horsehair petticoat into teeny, tiny shreds.


“Really, what did my poor petticoat do to offend?”


Vieve said, “I can see now that your insistence on ladies’ dress is very useful, in its way.”


Sophronia looked the nine-year-old over. “You going to give it a try, then?”


“I didn’t say it was that useful.”


Sophronia had a sudden, terrifying thought. “Oh, goodness, the other students! They don’t know Captain Niall is here, do they? What if they happen upon him on the way home from the play? We must warn them!”


“But how to warn them without explaining that you were out?” wondered Soap.


“I’ll claim I saw him out the parlor window. I must go.” Sophronia stood. She was covered in soot, her face smudged, her skirts flat, and her hair loose.


“But Miss Sophronia, look at you!”


“Can’t be helped, have to chance it. Lives are at stake.”


“But who are you going to tell? Everyone is at the theater.”


“Not everyone. Come on, Vieve! The last thing I need is to be trapped by mechanicals again. I need you and the obstructor.”


ATTACK OF THE FAN AND SPRINKLE


Sophronia and Vieve dashed through the airship ever upward and forward, making their way to the forbidden tassel section. They paused in front of Professor Braithwope’s door.


“You had better make yourself scarce, Vieve. There’s no point in both of us getting into trouble.”


Vieve looked up at her, then nodded. “We must do this again soon.”


“Perhaps without the werewolf attack and the loss of petticoat life?”


“Perhaps.”


With which the young girl tipped her cap at Sophronia and retreated down the hall, one hand in her pocket, obstructor pointed out in front of her, whistling some French tune in the tones of the deeply satisfied.


Well, I’m delighted someone had an enjoyable evening, Sophronia thought before knocking loudly on the vampire’s door.


There was good deal of clattering, a wet slurping noise, and the sound of india rubber squeaking, and then the door was opened a crack and Professor Braithwope peeked out.


“Whot, whot?” He had something dark about his mouth.


Oh, dear, thought Sophronia, have I interrupted him at tea? She tried to peek around him and catch a glimpse of whomever he might be supping with. But while the vampire was modestly sized, he occupied all of Sophronia’s line of sight.


“Professor, I do so hate to disturb you, but I have urgent business requiring your immediate attention.”


“Student, whot? By George, how’d you get into this section without setting off the alarms?”


“That’s not important, sir.”


“No, I think it might be.”


“Not now, sir. There is a problem, please, sir. It’s Captain Niall.”


“Werewolf, whot? What’s that to do with your getting into restricted areas of the school without a chaperone?”


“No, sir, he’s loose.”


“Of course he’s loose. Loose and leagues away, as he should be.”


“No, sir, he’s here.”


“On the ship, whot? Not possible. Werewolves don’t float.”


“No, sir, below. He’s here, on the moor, directly below, and the others should be returning from the theater soon. I saw him out my window.”


“Girlish fancies.”


“That’s possible, sir, but wouldn’t it be better to check and make certain?”


“Whot, whot? Yes, well. I suppose you’re right.”


“Quickly, sir. They’re due back at any moment.”


“Yes, yes. Where’s my hat?”


The vampire vanished for a split second and then pushed his way out into the hallway.


He was looking a tad disheveled, but he’d pulled on a greatcoat and buttoned it closed to disguise any possible fashion transgressions, and he had boots on his feet, which was more than might be said of a werewolf. Sophronia wasn’t certain, but she believed she might be coming down in favor of vampires as a general rule.


“Where is the blighter?”


“Below the boiler room area, sir. Last I saw.”


“Miss Temminnick.” The vampire tipped his hat and then sped away.


There was no point in even trying to keep up; he moved faster than any human could.


Oh, great, thought Sophronia. Now how am I supposed to get back to my quarters?


Vieve’s head reappeared around a bend in the hall. “Need a helping hand, or should I say wrist?” She waved the arm with the obstructor.


Sophronia grinned.


“So there we were, in all our evening’s finery, coming up the path toward the ship, and you will never guess what we observed! It was almost more exciting than the play itself. Although it was a very stirring performance of An Ideal Bathtub.” Dimity’s eyes were shining, her hands clasped together passionately, as she was thrust into the wondrousness of reliving the evening recently passed.


Sophronia, only slightly smudged, in a clean pinafore and her second-best set of petticoats, pretended rapt attention.


They were seated tête-à-tête on the settee while the other girls milled about, nattering about the finery of dress, the play, and the handsomeness of some boy or another—not necessarily in that order.


“Oh, what did you see?”


“Professor Braithwope, in a greatcoat!”


“Presumably he owns outerwear.”


Dimity left off clasping her hands to fiddle at something hanging about her neck.


Sophronia leaned forward. “Dimity, are you wearing two necklaces?”


“I couldn’t decide. But don’t distract me. Where was I?”


“On Professor Braithwope’s greatcoat.”


“Oh, yes. Don’t you believe greatcoats are rather a werewolf’s provenance? Not to mention the fact that vampires aren’t supposed to feel the cold. Anywho, where was I? Oh, yes. Professor Braithwope and his greatcoat were fighting a werewolf! Captain Niall!”


“Oh, how horrid.” Sophronia arranged her features into an appropriately shocked expression. Or what she hoped was appropriately shocked. She wasn’t doing very well in her acting lessons so far. I probably look more like a stuffed squirrel.


Dimity didn’t appear to think so. “Unfortunately, I didn’t see very much of the confrontation.”


“Was the exchange of fisticuffs that rapid? Supernatural speed, I understand.” Sophronia nodded wisely.


“Oh, no, there was blood, so I fainted.”


Preshea came over and stood before them, hands on hips, in nothing but her stays and drawers. So immodest!


“Sidheag caught her. Such a shame, Dimity, that you hadn’t arranged to faint earlier in the evening, when young Lord Dingleproops was paying you so much attention.”


Dimity blushed. “His parents are friends of the family, that is all!”


Sophronia ignored Preshea and looked to the other girls to continue the story where Dimity had fainted out of it. “What happened with the fisticuffs?”


“Not so many fists, actually. More fang and claw,” said Agatha.


“Very well, what happened with the fangicuffs, then?”


“Oh Sophronia, you’re so droll.” Dimity prodded her playfully with one thumb.


Sidheag only smiled dryly and retreated. Monique was pointedly absorbed in examining a small tear in the trim of one sleeve, and Preshea turned away to do her hair in rags for the night.


Agatha came timidly to Sophronia’s rescue. “Mademoiselle Geraldine also fainted. That freed Lady Linette to order some of the older girls into covert action. They’ve had lessons in group tactics for coordinated social rebuttal. She had them do the fan and sprinkle maneuver, to good effect.”


“Fan and sprinkle?”


Monique snorted. “Oh, really, Sophronia, don’t you know anything? Fan and sprinkle is for young ladies coping with werewolf attack while gentlemen are away. There have been pamphlets published!”


Sophronia looked to Agatha for further explanation, but the portly girl had lost all her pluck and retreated to a corner with a book on the language of parasols.


“Dimity, do you know what this maneuver is?”


Dimity hedged. “Well, I’ve heard of it, of course, but never seen it applied.”


“And you didn’t this evening, either. Really, Dimity, you must learn to time your faints with greater accuracy.” Preshea’s tone was condescending; rooming with Monique was turning out not to benefit her character.


Monique tsked. “It’s very simple, really. Distract the werewolf.”


“In this case, with a well-applied vampire,” interjected Preshea, to Monique’s annoyance.


Monique continued, “Then approach to within sprinkling distance. Sprinkle the werewolf, or his near proximity, liberally with noxious perfume—anything herbaceous does the trick, though basil is best, of course—as well as smelling salts, to encourage the inhalation. They have a heightened sense of smell, werewolves. Then everyone takes up their fans and blows the fumes in the direction of the beast. The creature begins to sneeze uncontrollably, allowing one to escape. Voilà!”


“And is that what happened?” Sophronia looked to Preshea for confirmation. After all, Monique hadn’t been on the theater excursion, either.


“Essentially. Although poor Professor Braithwope also got a big dose of perfume. But still, it distracted Captain Niall long enough for the professor to get the upper hand and drag him away. We managed to board the airship with impunity using the grand stairs.”


Stairs? thought Sophronia. This ship has stairs?


Preshea concluded, “A very exciting end to the evening. But that’s enough rough talk. Did you ladies see how many beaux I had surrounding me at the theater?”


“Not nearly so many as I might have had,” shot back Monique. “I’ve already managed to make half of Bunson’s fall madly in love with me; this year I shall get the other half.” She looked about magnanimously. “Of course, you are allowed some, Preshea. I’m no glutton.”


Preshea smiled in a way that had nothing to do with pleasure. “And then there’s Lord Dingleproops; he’s clearly in Dimity’s pocket.”


“I know, so peculiar. Well, I suppose there is no accounting for taste. No offense meant, of course, Dimity.”


Dimity could clearly think of nothing to say to that. She looked as though she had swallowed a live eel.


Monique and Preshea continued to chat about the young men Preshea had met at the theater. Boys whom Monique already knew and about whom minutiae of appearance, financial situation, and social connection had to be told to Preshea in a most condescending way.


With the other girls thus distracted, Sophronia turned to Dimity and said in a low voice, “Do you like this Dingle personage?”


Dimity blushed in such a manner as indicated she might. Either that or she didn’t like him at all. “He is quite tall for his age.”


Sophronia tried to be sympathetic. “A good start, I suppose. Has he any other qualities of note?”


“He has a very nice nose.”


“Good, a nose, excellent.”


Dimity, who was rarely silent, fell quiet again at that juncture.


Sophronia tried to think of some other attribute a boy of interest to Dimity might possess. “Was he wearing anything sparkly?”


“He had a brass pin on his hatband.” Dimity looked a little disappointed, as if this were the merest of seeds before the great tree of her own adornments.


Two necklaces. Two! “And, um, is he smart?”


“Oh, Sophronia, that is hardly a desirable quality in a beau!”


“No? Is he a beau, then?”


“I am not allowed followers until I’m sixteen.”


“Well, then.”


The conversation paused.


Finally Dimity said, “Did you know my revolting brother wasn’t there? Scarpered off from the play. Apparently, he’s a bit of a pustule so far as the other boys are concerned. Not that I’m surprised. He’s probably going around correcting silly little mistakes and making himself unwelcome.”


“Or it could be they are browbeating him out of spite.”


“Oh, come now, I hardly think boys are like that.”


“Oh, no?” Sophronia, who had several brothers of her own, was startled at this outrageous statement.


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