Home > Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School #3)(2)

Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School #3)(2)
Gail Carriger

“You were going to fetch me some punch, sir?”

“Was I?” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “I don’t think Queen Victoria likes punch. In fact, I know she doesn’t. Would a glass of resin do? For the wood. A nice sealant. Necessary in weather like this. They’re collecting crystals, did you know? Pretty round ones, crystals to rule the world. Then there are mechanicals to think about. I don’t trust them, do you? No, exactly! Not with punch, at any rate.”

Sophronia remembered Westminster Hive. “Do any vampires trust mechanicals?”

“No. Nor do our brother werewolves. Why should they, whot? I mean to say, why should we? I am a vampire, am I not?”

“Yes, Professor, have been for hundreds of years.”

“That long? Miss Temminnick, you should come with me.” With that, Professor Braithwope picked Sophronia up bodily under one arm and carried her away from the squeak deck toward the pilot’s bubble, mincing along the plank.

The pilot’s bubble was the size of two very large bathtubs, one overturned on top of the other. It was supported from below by scaffolding but was otherwise far from the safety of the airship.

Professor Braithwope set her down on top of the bubble on a flat area big enough for two.

“Now what, sir?” Sophronia asked politely.

“Miss Temminnick, what are you doing on top of the pilot’s bubble?”

“You just put me here, sir.”

“Oh, yes. Now, would you like to dance?”

“If you insist. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of space.”

“It is quite the rout, whot? I’ve never known Buckingham to be so crowded. Usually, the queen is more selective. Why, I believe there are even clavigers present. I mean, drones are one thing, but clavigers are little more than prison wardens! Not to worry, little bite, I’ll do most of the work.” He began a gentle waltz on top of the bubble. He was inhumanly strong and unbelievably well balanced. Sophronia trusted in his ability to hold her up and hoped he wouldn’t suddenly forget about her, or think she was a hat and try to wear her instead of the flowerpot.

“Professor Braithwope, really!” came an autocratic voice from the squeak deck.

Agatha had returned with Lady Linette.

“Put Miss Temminnick down and come back here this instant. Shameful behavior, sir.”

The vampire looked like a crestfallen schoolboy and stopped waltzing. Mademoiselle Geraldine was the official headmistress, but everyone knew Lady Linette held the real power. Accordingly, the vampire let Sophronia go, turned, and dashed back along the beam.

Sophronia slipped on the bubble roof. Her feet went out from under her, and she slid over the side. Her petticoats bunched and snagged on a loose nail, but not enough to do more than slow her fall.

Several of the watching young ladies screamed in horror.

Fortunately, Sophronia was accustomed to gallivanting about the hull of the ship. Her instincts kicked in. Instead of grappling for purchase, she reached one hand over to the opposite wrist. Pointing that wrist up, she ejected her hurlie. The hurlie looked a bit like a turtle one wore as a bracelet, but when it was deployed, two grappling hooks sprang out from underneath. The hurlie arced up and over the bubble, taking hold on the other side. It trailed a rope, so Sophronia fell only that distance before her left arm was fairly jerked out of its socket. She got her right hand around the rope to relieve the strain and found herself dangling like a fish at the end of a line.

“Miss Temminnick,” she heard Lady Linette cry, “report your condition.”

“Sophronia,” shrieked Dimity, “are you all right? Oh, dear, oh, dear.”

Shocked and winded, Sophronia needed a moment before she could answer either.

“Professor Braithwope, go after her!” Lady Linette ordered.

“Dear madam,” protested the vampire, “must protect the other young ladies from an equally dire fate.” With which there came the sound of splintering wood.

Sophronia twirled sedately at the end of her rope, eventually able to witness the vampire destroying his former dancing beam with his bare hands.

“Professor, stop that immediately!” instructed Lady Linette.

“Sophronia, are you well? Oh, please answer.” Dimity again.

Sophronia mustered enough breath to yell back, “I’m perfectly fine. However, it appears I am now stranded.” She couldn’t see any way to climb up to the deck or down along the bubble’s scaffolding to return to the ship. Fortunately, the pilot’s bubble remained in place, although it did sway a bit more without the added stabilization of the beam.

“Miss Temminnick,” said Lady Linette. “Where did you get that ingenious hook thing?”

“A friend,” replied Sophronia.

“Unregistered gadgetry is not allowed on school grounds, young lady. Although I find myself pleased you had this particular one to hand. Or to wrist, I should say.”

Sophronia, still spinning serenely through space, replied with, “I do apologize, Lady Linette, but might we discuss this later? Perhaps now we should solve my immediate predicament?”

“Of course, dear,” yelled her teacher, and then, distracted, “No, Professor Braithwope, not the soldier mechanicals. Bad vampire!”

“Lady Linette?” hollered Sophronia, feeling neglected.

“Yes, dear. If you could climb up to the underside of the pilot’s bubble? You’ll find a hatch to get inside just there. We’ll use capsule pipeline eggs to communicate with you once you’re safe. I’ll send Professor Lefoux. She’s better at these sorts of engineering difficulties.”

How, wondered Sophronia, is my dangling off the bubble an engineering difficulty? She said, “Very good, thank you.”

She spun around enough to see back up to the squeak deck, in time to witness Lady Linette dash after the mincing Professor Braithwope. “Now, now, Professor, please!” He was still wearing his potted plant.

She saw Sister Mattie’s round, drab form appear and heard that teacher say, “My dears, have you seen my prize foxglove? Oh, no, Professor, really? I spent weeks on that one!” She bounced up and down, attempting to extract the plant from Professor Braithwope’s head.

The assembled young ladies, with the exception of Dimity, Agatha, and Sidheag, found the spectacle of Sophronia dangling no longer to their taste and turned to follow the hijinks of their teachers.

“Sophronia,” came Dimity’s voice, “will you be all right?” Her face was wrinkled with genuine worry.

“Can we help in any way?” Agatha wanted to know. She, too, worried, but was less aggressive about it.

“Want some company?” said Sidheag. She rarely worried about anything and had complete confidence in Sophronia’s ability to extract herself from any predicament.

“Oh, dear me, no,” replied Sophronia, as if she had a mild case of the sniffles and they had called ’round to inquire after her health. “Thank you for your concern, but don’t linger on my account.”

“Well…” Dimity was hesitant. “If you’re certain?”

“I’ll see you at tea,” said Sophronia, sounding more confident than she felt.

“Either that or we shall come back up here in an hour and toss crumpets to you.”

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