Etiquette & Espionage / Page 30

Page 30

They made their way back down through the ship, using the obstructor as needed and separating from Soap at Lady Linette’s balcony.

“Thank you kindly for your help,” said Sophronia, rather awkwardly formal.

“ ’Course, miss,” said Soap, coming in far too close and tucking a loose bit of Sophronia’s hair behind her ear before swinging himself back over the railing and clambering away.

Dimity gave Sophronia a long, suspicious look.

Sophronia pretended not to see and said, “Turn around. I’ll get your buttons.”

Dimity sputtered, “But we are outside! At night! On a balcony!”

“Yes, but sometimes manners must be sacrificed on the altar of not being found out by teachers because we smell of rose oil and are covered in sticky stuff! Now, please, Dimity.”

They helped each other to remove their outer gowns. Dimity threw hers over the edge rather sadly. “I did like that blue gown.”

“Let’s hope Captain Niall doesn’t find them.” Sophronia chucked hers after Dimity’s without much care. She’d grown to appreciate that she needed to learn to be fashionable, bur that didn’t mean she had vested any emotional compassion into her existing clothing. “I’ll steal us some vinegar from the kitchen in the morning; we can soak our smalls in that. It should get out the smell.” She bit her lip, thinking. “And suet, for cleaning our scissors.”

Dimity looked faintly unwell at the idea. “So much for smelling like roses.”


Despite the fact that Lady Linette must have discovered it, the infiltration of the record room was not announced at breakfast. No doubt this was to keep Mademoiselle Geraldine in the dark. The headmistress probably didn’t even know there was a record room. However, there was certainly an aura of doom about the repast that subdued even Monique’s machinations.

Nevertheless, Monique managed to corner Sophronia in the hallway later that day on their way to lessons with Lady Linette.

“I understand your sister has a coming-out ball soon. Pity your family can’t see to a London season. Or is there some additional urgency to the matter of your sister’s entrée?”

Sophronia curled her lip. “At least Petunia is getting a coming-out. I understand you haven’t been presented. And you are what, all of eighteen? Such a waste.”

“Oh, don’t you concern yourself with me. Mama plans a spectacular season as soon as I finish. And she won’t have already spent the family fortune on an older sister.”

“Why are we talking about this now?”

“Oh, did I forget to mention? I have an invitation.”


“Yes, indeed. I wrote to Daddy shortly after we first arrived at school. Daddy knows people.”

How on earth did she get that message off the ship? Sophronia wondered. I thought she was prevented. I missed something. What did I miss?

“How did you…?” she started to ask, then she remembered. Monique’s friend.

She has a teacher, or something like it, working with her, of course! They must have sent the message for her, from Bunson’s. Perhaps I can somehow take advantage of this, follow her. “It’s going to be a very interesting event,” said Sophronia slyly. “Very interesting indeed.”

Monique’s face sharpened. “Are you meddling, little girl? I wouldn’t meddle in things that don’t concern you.”

“Isn’t that exactly what we are being trained to do?”

Monique stepped in close, and Sophronia felt a prick at her throat. Under cover of full sleeves and bonnet ribbons, the older girl pressed a very sharp metal hair stick into Sophronia’s neck. “Accidents will happen.”

Sophronia was not to be cowed. She jerked away. “So will discoveries,” she hissed before moving swiftly on to Lady Linette’s. Monique followed her. She was no longer worried for her family; Monique wouldn’t tell anyone the hiding place. She wants to retrieve the prototype herself. She wants to stay in control of the operation. That’s what I’d want.

The other girls were already seated. They were looking, Sophronia realized, far better than at the beginning of the year. Dimity’s curls were more controlled. Preshea’s expression was not so sour, and Agatha had a nice piece of lace about her neck. Even Sidheag had improved her posture. Sophronia wondered what changes had been wrought upon her own appearance.

Lady Linette entered a few minutes after Monique, almost late for her own class. She looked harried underneath her copious frills and layers of face paint. “Ladies, it has come to our attention that someone tampered with the record room last night. Have any of you information to impart?”

The girls all looked at one another.

Monique raised her hand. “Sophronia, Dimity, Sidheag, and Agatha have been very subversive lately.”

Lady Linette turned blue eyes upon Monique. “Indeed, Miss Pelouse? Have you overheard anything concrete?”

“No, Lady Linette.” Monique shifted in her seat.

Lady Linette turned her attention to Sophronia. “Have you ladies been plotting?” Sophronia had no idea why she should be selected as the representative of the group, but supposed it was a fair cop. They did, as a general rule, tend to be her schemes.

She said, “I’m attempting to get them invited to my sister’s ball. That’s why I keep trying to send a message home.”

“Of course you are. But not Miss Buss or Miss Pelouse?”

Sophronia shrugged. “Mumsy won’t let me ask everyone. I mean to say, what comes next—the entire school?”

Monique looked prim. “I already have an invitation. I don’t need Sophronia’s help.”

Dimity gave Sophronia a very worried look.

Sophronia remained impassive. “Oh, yes? I didn’t know you knew my sister.”

“Nor did I,” interjected Lady Linette. “Considering Miss Pelouse’s last sojourn into your abode was under false pretenses, she will have to plan her outfit carefully. And you ladies, do you think you are ready for a ball so soon in your careers?”

Sidheag shrugged. Dimity nodded enthusiastically. Agatha stared at her hands.

Lady Linette sighed audibly. “Nothing to do with the record room, then, ladies?” She directed the full focus of her attention on Sidheag, of all people. “Are you certain you didn’t see anything in particular?”

Sidheag looked at Sophronia with a slight air of contrition and shrugged. Sophronia frowned. What does Sidheag have to feel guilty about?

“Is anything missing from the record room?” asked Sophronia.

“A quill, but nothing else.” Lady Linette redirected the query to become a teaching session. “So what do we believe an infiltrator might have been after, ladies?”

“Information,” said Preshea promptly. “It is a record room?”

“Exactly, Miss Buss. Very good.”

“The culprit has to be someone already on board school grounds,” added Sophronia. “Unless infiltrators can get on and off without the mechanicals noticing.”

“Good, Sophronia.”

“That’s why you are interrogating the students.”

“Lady Linette.” Dimity straightened up. “Are the records of students kept in that room?”

Lady Linette nodded.

Sophronia, seeing where Dimity might be steering the conversation, said, “So the culprit wanted to see information, change information, or steal information. Which means a vested interest. Older student, perhaps, skilled enough to get in, with something at risk?”

Sophronia stopped herself there, not wanting to push her luck, and carefully didn’t look at Monique. Casting blame elsewhere was a classic misdirection tactic, but it had to be practiced with care. Particularity as it was Lady Linette who had explained the technique to her.

“So can Agatha, Sidheag, and Dimity come with me to my sister’s ball? Are they socially skilled enough for public exhibition?” Sophronia asked, hoping to change the subject now that she had planted a seed of suspicion.

“If their parents approve. You’ll have to wait until we exit the gray. Now, what to teach today? Oh, yes. Posture.”

That evening, Monique de Pelouse and a few of the older girls were taken in for questioning by Lady Linette, Professor Lefoux, and Professor Braithwope. A new rumor instantly sprang up that Monique was the one who had broken into the record room, supposedly to doctor her files over failing to finish.

“It’s a great rumor,” said Dimity proudly when they were safely back in their room, changing for dancing lessons. “Did you stash some of that rose perfume oil in her room?”

Sophronia grinned. “Of course.”

“Nice to get a little of our own back.” Dimity was busy rinsing out their now vinegar scented underthings in the washbasin.

“How do you think Monique managed to get invited to my sister’s ball?”

Dimity said, “Connections. Your father belongs to some kind of gentlemen’s club, doesn’t he?”

“Don’t all fathers?” Sophronia finished with the bacon grease and the sewing scissors and fed the excess fat to Bumbersnoot, who belched black smoke appreciatively.

“A note from Monique to her darling papa right after we arrived here, and your mother is sending out one extra invitation to one bony blonde.”

“No, I mean how’d she get the note off the ship?”

“Oooh, good question. She had help?”

“She had help.”


“Now that, Dimity, is a really good question.” Sophronia wandered over to assist in wringing out the clothing. Dimity had clearly never even observed a washing day, let alone scrubbed clothing herself; she handled it so tentatively it was as though the fabric might be seized with a spirit of disapproval and administer a wet slap across her face.

“This could turn out to be a good thing,” Sophronia said.

“How so? Monique is sure to be better-dressed and have more dances than us.”

“She could lead us right to where she hid the prototype.”

“We’ll have to keep an eye on her the entire ball.”

“What an unpleasant thought. Still, there are four of us and only one of her.”

“With years’ more training.”

Sophronia made herself sound confident. “We did pretty well last night.”

Dimity nodded. “Although I thought in Lady Linette’s class that Sidheag might break.”

Sophronia nodded. “I know. It’s not like her. What do you think that was about?”

Dimity shook her head.

Sophronia slumped onto her bed. Or, to be more precise, she slumped down into her corset, which didn’t allow for very much slumping. Then, after a moment’s thought, she stood and left their room, heading for Sidheag and Agatha’s.

Sidheag wasn’t there, but Agatha let her in.


“Could I have a little look out of your window, please, Agatha?”

“Well, um, if you like.”

Sophronia went over to the window. She had to stand on Sidheag’s bed to see out of it. It was one of those tiny portholes, like the ones on seafaring steamers.

“Sophronia, what are you doing on my bed?” came a sharp question.

“Good afternoon, Sidheag. Interesting how I can see right over to that outer balcony.”

“Is it interesting?”

“A balcony, mind you, that I like to use on occasion to get around. You, too, now that you’ve joined me on my climbing jaunts.”

“Do you?”

“Yes, I do.” Sophronia frowned at the tall Scotswoman. “Agatha, would you give us a moment of privacy?”

“You aren’t going to argue, are you? That’s what Papa always says before he yells at Mama. Please don’t argue. We’ve all been getting along so well.”

“Agatha!” said Sidheag sharply.

Agatha let herself out of the room, closing the door softly behind her.

Sophronia said, “I know you’re not happy here, Sidheag, but I never would have pegged you for a turncoat.”

Sidheag looked uncomfortable. “I thought you’d deny it and there would be an end to the matter.”

“I wasn’t trained up enough yet to know that denial was the best course of action.”

“So you got into trouble. Sorry about that.”

“Sorry? That’s all I’m allowed?”

“You just did exactly the same thing to Monique. Worse, because she didn’t actually do it.”

“She deserved it.”

“I thought at the time that you deserved it. Why should you go climbing out at all hours while the rest of us were trapped in our rooms?”

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