Home > Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School #3)(6)

Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School #3)(6)
Gail Carriger

He turned back to Sophronia. “The arm?”

“I’ll do,” said Sophronia, although the pain was, if possible, more intense under Agatha’s ministrations. The redhead had dipped her handkerchief into the creek and was patting clumsily at the gash.

Sophronia realized why the werewolf was keeping his distance and acting so uncaring. She explained in a low voice to Agatha, “He won’t come check. My blood probably smells too tasty.”

Agatha blanched and looked with wide eyes at their teacher, whose general attitude and demeanor were not significantly different from normal. He was very good at putting on a front. They had learned from Sidheag that this was also a sign of age in werewolves.

Sophronia said to Agatha, “Why not apply some of my lemon tincture? Sister Mattie always says alcohol helps clean cuts, and the lemon scent will hide the smell of my blood.”

Agatha reached for the little bottle hanging from Sophronia’s waist. Since she hadn’t recapped it during the fight, most of it had sloshed out, but there was enough left to pour over the wound. Agatha then wrapped Sophronia’s arm with her handkerchief.

“All good, Captain Niall,” said Sophronia as Agatha helped her to stand.

The werewolf sniffed and then raised both eyebrows. “Goodness, I can’t even smell… Miss Woosmoss, what did you do?”

Agatha said tremulously, “Sophronia’s idea, sir. We used her perfume to clean the wound and modify the scent.”

Captain Niall came over. “Remarkable.” He turned back to the other girls. “Now, who would like to duel next? Keeping the leather guards on this time, please.”

Sophronia retreated up the bank to sit next to Dimity, who was coming ’round.

“What did I miss?” Dimity sat up, patting at her bonnet to check the straw for injury.

“Oh, nothing much, I dumped Preshea in the river.” Sophronia gestured to where Preshea stood, bedraggled and shivering in a shawl, surrounded by solicitous girls.

“Oh, bother. That’s your best so far.”

Sophronia grinned. “You know, I might agree with you there.” She looked down at the fan she still held in her good hand. “I believe I may have to get myself one of these. Do you think they are available on Bond Street or will I have to special order?”

“You will have to order several in different colors to match all your outfits,” said Dimity with conviction. She was always serious about the fashionable side of matters deadly.

Sophronia groaned. “How will I get Mumsy to outlay? There’s Ephraim’s engagement ball coming up. She’s bound to hold that against me for funding reasons. You’ve no idea how lucky you are to have only one sibling. Being an intelligencer is rather an expensive undertaking.”

Dimity smiled. “How about getting a patron? Lady Linette did just instruct us to start considering our options.”

Sophronia grimaced; there were no good options. Everything meant lack of independence. “Quality marriage or patronage.”

“You have to pay back the school somehow.”

“I’m not ready to marry yet.”

That, Dimity didn’t understand. “Not even Felix Mersey—rich and handsome?”

Sophronia replied, her tone wistful, “Oh, no, Dimity, you know I couldn’t. Sidheag would never forgive me.”

“Why? Oh, because his father is a Pickleman?”

“Sidheag has a supernatural’s mistrust of Picklemen.”

Dimity said, “I’m not deeply keen on them myself.”

Sophronia arched an eyebrow in agreement.

Dimity sighed. “So no marriage; then what are your plans for patronage after we leave?”

“I hadn’t really thought about it. Lord Akeldama seems nice enough—I’m not sure I want to be a vampire’s drone, though. Do you think he’d take me on under indenture without a feeding plan?”

Dimity returned to the immediate necessity. “Regardless, he wants you, so ask him for a fan.”

“What a shocking suggestion.”

“You’re keeping what he’s sent so far. How is a fan any worse?”

Sophronia paused to consider the odd Lord Akeldama. During a Westminster Hive infiltration, when she and Sidheag had rescued Dimity, Sophronia had met and formulated a strange friendship with the dandy vampire. Seemingly without the ordinary formalities, he had taken her under his wing. He occasionally sent her small goodies of a fashionable, deadly, or silly persuasion—often all three. If Sophronia wasn’t convinced of the vampire’s romantic disinterest, she might have thought them courting gifts. The presents were so lovely she couldn’t help but keep them, even though by all standards of decency she ought to have sent them right back to London. Sophronia suspected that actually requesting something specific, like a bladed fan, might be considered presumptuous, or worse, open her up to indenture and contractual obligation. Patronage was a sticky business, especially for a female intelligencer. If only Professor Braithwope were more mentally present. He was the one to ask.

Perhaps she would work on Mumsy first for the necessary, or see if she could get a message to Vieve at Bunson’s. Vieve was Professor Lefoux’s niece, now under cover of mustache at the local boys’ school. A great inventor and friend, she might choose to make a bladed fan as a challenge, or take umbrage with the request, as it had been made before.

Sophronia switched topics. “Whatever else is the case, I need to pay closer attention to Soap’s lessons in dirty fighting. Flicking perfume in the face was his idea.”

“What?”

“Oh, you missed that bit. I slung scent in Preshea’s eyes.”

“Jolly good.”

“Soap taught me the technique.”

“Your sootie beau? Of course he would teach you such a thing.”

“He’s not my beau!”

“Whatever you say.”

Agatha came wandering over. “What’s going on now?”

“Sophronia’s muttering about visiting her sootie beau for more lessons in ungentlewomanly conduct.”

“Oh, dear me, no. Sophronia, I don’t think it wise to encourage him.” Agatha paled, making her freckles pop out under the moonlight.

Sophronia blushed. “Not that kind of thing. I mean dirty fighting.”

Agatha pursed her lips. “Of course you do.”

Sophronia turned away to watch the other girls fight. She had no way to defend herself on this particular subject. Sometimes she was horribly afraid her friends knew more than she did about her relationship with Soap. Ask her to learn a new weapon and she was ready and able, but learning how to cope with boys and affection still seemed elusive.

Mercifully, Captain Niall left them to recover while the rest of the class practiced fanning. An hour or so later, he shuffled them all back up the staircase. Sophronia, Agatha, and Dimity were the last up, only to find that Sidheag was waiting patiently at the top.

She was wearing an expression of such unhappiness, they all knew instantly that something was horribly wrong.

SESSION 3: MISSING SIDHEAGS AND MISAPPLIED SEDUCTION

Agatha ran the last few steps to the Scottish girl and placed an arm about her waist, squeezing her close. The redhead’s round face was puckered in concern.

Sidheag certainly looked in need of that supporting arm. For the first time, Sophronia thought of her friend as willowy and frail, rather than tall and gawky.

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