Etiquette & Espionage / Page 27

Page 27

“Ah, of course. And what, exactly, is a Pickleman?”

“You don’t know?”

“How would I?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I keep forgetting you’re a covert recruit. You seem to be so very much one of us.”

“That’s kind of you to say.”

“Careful—wouldn’t want Monique finding out you like it here. She’ll make it her business to get you turned out. Anyway, Picklemen are sort of in charge of all kinds of important things. Not exactly legally, and rarely nicely. They like to collect money and power. That’s pretty much all I know. Oh, and their leader is called the Great Chutney.”

Sophronia’s eyebrows arched. “Well, if you say so.”

Dimity sat up, looking worried. “Do you think Monique might be working for them?”

“No, they’re clearly backing the flywaymen, or employing them. And remember, Monique refused to cooperate. If she were working with them, why the theatrics in the road? Why not just hand over the prototype? Why hide it at my house?”

“So if she’s not working for them and she’s not working for our school, who is she working for?”

“Herself? Her family? I don’t know—the vampires, maybe? Even the werewolves. Or perhaps one of the teachers is a traitor. We already know she has one of them defending her.”

Dimity looked nervous. “Are you sure we should be involving ourselves? Isn’t this something for the adults to sort out?”

Sophronia gave an evil little grin. “I’m thinking of it as training. Besides, if the prototype is at my house, I am involved. Monique involved me.”

Dimity only nodded. “I still don’t like how quiet she’s been. We should be on our guard.”


Dimity’s warning came none too soon, for having finally given up on trying to send a message, Monique turned her unwelcome attention once more to being a plonker.

Sophronia was minding her own business and running late to luncheon, as was her custom. She’d yet to learn the advantage of punctuality. As she told Sister Mattie the third time she was late to household potions and poisons, nothing interesting happened until after an event commenced. Her natural tardiness was compounded by the fact that she was trying to find time for all her classes; extra work in fan languages and how to plan a five-course meal; visits to sooties; and practicing with Sidheag and Dimity when no one was watching. There never seemed to be enough time.

So she was late to the dining hall, dashing in through the door, when someone stuck out one booted foot and she went flying.

Luckily, they’d learned some tumbling. Sophronia went head over heels, landing in a crouch on one knee with the other bent in what might be considered a mockery of a full court bow. It could have been graceful, except she tore her hem as she tried to rise, tripped to the side, and crashed into an unsuspecting older girl.

By that point, the entire school had turned to watch her, and a wave of giggles rippled through the hall.

Sophronia was absolutely mortified. She’d been trying so hard to learn to at least pretend to be proper and well-mannered.

Mademoiselle Geraldine said, “Miss Temminnick! Is there a problem?”

“No, Headmistress.” She could feel herself blushing furiously. It reminded her of the incident with the dumbwaiter and the trifle—only now she cared. Stupid finishing school, she thought, teaching me to care about such things.

“Where is your poise, young lady?”

“I seem to have misplaced it on someone’s boot, Headmistress.”

Professor Lefoux glared at her. “What was that? Excuses? Don’t be smart, young lady.”

“No, Professor. Apologies, Headmistress.”

Lady Linette said with quiet firmness, “Miss Temminnick, go back out and reenter the room properly.”

“Yes, my lady.” Sophronia turned and marched from the room, and then came back in. This time she kept her eyes firmly to the ground, even though she knew everyone was watching her and they had recently had lessons in how to walk with one’s nose in the air.

She saw a boot twitch as if it wanted to head out and trip her a second time. The boot was of peach-colored kid leather, with pink ribbons for laces and a shockingly high heel. The person attached to it was Monique de Pelouse.

Monique smiled sweetly at her and then turned and said in very loud voice, “Isn’t it so intelligent of Miss Temminnick to wear blue? With her complexion, it really is the only safe color. How unfortunate the dress couldn’t be cut a tad more modern, poor dear.”

Sophronia, stewing gently in annoyance, went to sit at the other end of the table. Why does Monique impose upon us, she wondered, just for torture? I know she’s been demoted, but I’m certain she could still sit with the older girls. Give them the benefit of her scintillating conversation.

“Don’t worry, Sophronia,” said Monique, “I’m sure no one saw your gaffe.” At which Preshea tittered obligingly.

Sophronia didn’t point out that Monique had tripped her, as she knew it would only sound defensive.

Dimity said, “You’re not usually that clumsy.”

“No, that’s my role,” added Agatha with a shy smile.

Sophronia looked down the table at Monique. “You’re right, I’m not.”

Monique wasn’t finished, either. After tea, distracted by the prospect of a quadrille lesson with Mademoiselle Geraldine during which they had been instructed by Lady Linette to try passing secret messages without being caught by the headmistress, Sophronia and the others neglected to notice that Agatha wasn’t with them. The poor thing wasn’t exactly a friend, but they did try to keep an eye on her, as they might Bumbersnoot.

When Agatha finally joined them, some ten minutes late to class, her eyes were red. Mademoiselle Geraldine gave her a stern talking-to on the subject of tardiness, which started her crying.

“Now, dear, there is no use wasting tears on me, I’m not a man. Besides, you are clearly not the kind of young lady to cry with any form or grace. Your skin becomes blotchy.”

Monique slid into the room gracefully at that juncture and glided to the back of the assembled girls without being observed. She was used to manipulating Mademoiselle Geraldine.

“Yes, Headmistress,” Agatha replied, trying to stop her tears.

“No, no, not with the sleeve. Dear, how many times do I have to tell you? You must never wipe any part of your face with your sleeve. That is what a handkerchief is for. And even then we dab. Ladies dab! Where is your handkerchief?”

Agatha fished about hopelessly in her reticule.

“No handkerchief, Agatha Woosmoss? What kind of young lady of qualit-tay are you?”

“I am sorry, Headmistress.”

Mademoiselle Geraldine turned to face the class. “Ladies, where do we always stash a spare handkerchief?”

“In our décolletage,” sang out everyone in unison.

The headmistress smiled brightly, tossing her red curls and thrusting her own substantial décolletage forward as if in agreement.

“She could stash a whole cotton mill in hers,” Sophronia whispered to Dimity.

Dimity pursed her lips to stop herself from laughing.

Mademoiselle Geraldine continued, “Show me, ladies!”

Obligingly, all the girls reached into their cleavage and pulled out squares of fine muslin. Being only thirteen or fourteen, few had sufficient cleavage to fish handkerchiefs out of, except Monique. Sidheag was a veritable beanpole. Sophronia felt her own wasn’t bad. Preshea, of course, was perfect. Dimity said she thought the smaller girl stuffed. “You understand. With rosemary sachets.” Dimity described herself as “lamentably undersized.”

Sidheag seemed to be having difficulty following Mademoiselle Geraldine’s instructions.

“Lady Kingair, where is your handkerchief?”

“Well, blast it. I put it in. It seems to have slipped down inside my corset.”

Mademoiselle Geraldine fanned herself. “Lady Kingair, there is no need to go into detail. A lady of qualit-tay does not mention such a thing out loud.”

“What? What did I say?” Sidheag was genuinely confused.

“Corset,” hissed Sophronia.

“Miss Temminnick! Not you, too.”

“I beg your pardon, Headmistress.” Sophronia executed an almost perfect curtsy. This seemed to mollify Mademoiselle Geraldine.

“She doesn’t have enough to hold it up, Headmistress,” said Monique.

“Hush now, Miss Pelouse. We do not talk about another lady’s endowments in public. Lady Kingair, my dear, did you put the handkerchief in before or after you laced this morning?”

“Before; otherwise I forget,” Sidheag answered promptly.

“Well, you must wait to put it in after. Then it won’t disappear on you. Miss Temminnick, lend Miss Woosmoss your spare, please? Then at least she will have something. Now, ladies, where was I? Oh, yes, the quadrille.”

Agatha took her place in the set with Sidheag and Dimity. Sophronia stepped in to be her partner and passed her the handkerchief. Agatha stuffed it down her bodice with a muttered “thank you.”

“Ladies, we begin with the Le Pantalon. And a one, two, three, four. Step forward, salutation to your partner—no, Miss Buss, you’re playing the man, remember? You bow.” The headmistress was making up the fourth in the other set with Monique, Preshea, and a mop dressed in a hat. They were having a much more difficult time trying to pass notes back and forth without her noticing. The mop, of course, was of absolutely no help.

“What happened, Agatha? Are you feeling quite the thing?” Sophronia asked when the dance permitted conversation.

“It’s nothing to concern you.”

“Let me guess—Monique?” While she talked, Sophronia slipped Dimity a small, folded bit of paper. There was nothing on the paper; it was only for technique.

Sidheag said, “I saw that.”

Dimity whispered, “Perhaps note-passing is better done during L’été?”

Agatha said, answering Sophronia’s question, “She’s evil. And not in a good way.”

“What did she say?”

“Nothing of import.” Agatha’s face was red. “Not for you, anyway.” The way she said it implied that Sophronia was somehow to blame.

They moved on from Le Pantalon to L’été. As Dimity had predicted, it was easier to pass the notes, but Agatha kept dropping hers. Every time she did so, everyone had to stop the pattern while she looked under her full skirts to try to find the scrap of paper. It was decidedly not covert. They had to pretend she was lacing her boot.

At the end of the hour, Mademoiselle Geraldine clapped her hands to get their attention. “That was adequate, ladies, but only adequate. You are to practice the first two sections of the quadrille ten times over this evening. In our next lesson, we will move on to the La Poule, so I expect you to have the Le Pantalon memorized.”

“Do you think,” Sophronia wondered to Dimity as they left the headmistress’s classroom, “that she realizes she is saying ‘the’ twice?”

Dimity raised an eyebrow. “Why, Sophronia, are you implying Mademoiselle Geraldine is not actually French? Shocking suggestion.”

“Any more than Lady Linette is a lady?” added Sophronia.

“Oh, come now, she could be a lady, you can’t be certain of that. After all, Sidheag is a lady, and no one would ever have guessed that.”

“Oh, thank you very much, Dimity,” said Sidheag from where she stalked along behind them.

Dimity tilted her curly head back and over one shoulder, looking up at the tall girl with a cheeky grin. “Oh, don’t pretend to be offended. I’ve figured you all out now. You’ll take that as a compliment. You don’t really want to be a lady. That’s your whole difficulty.”

Sidheag muttered something about who would want to be a lady when she could be a werewolf, which everyone politely ignored. Such an idea was patently ridiculous. Everyone knew girls couldn’t be werewolves.

It was Dimity who found out what happened to Agatha. Dimity might not be very good at finding out anything about prototypes, or world domination, or next day’s tea cakes, but she certainly had an ear for gossip.

“Did you hear Monique cornered Agatha in the hallway this afternoon? Apparently she said she wondered how someone of Agatha’s vulgar proportions even got admitted to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s. She said that Agatha probably wouldn’t be asked back after the winter break, even if she did come from a long line of intelligencers. She said you would take Agatha’s place, since there was no one better.”

“Oh, dear, no wonder Agatha was mad at me. It’s not true, is it?” In normal finishing schools, the general attitude was the more students the better, but this one was different. Perhaps on an airship number restrictions have to be followed.

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