Home > Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School #3)(8)

Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School #3)(8)
Gail Carriger

“Ladies, it has been decided that you are now old enough for lessons in the fine art of seduction. And so we will begin with multidirectional flirting. Few of you will have the opportunity to practice on boys for a good while yet, since we are no longer keeping company with Bunson’s.” She turned suddenly to Sophronia and Dimity. “Except you ladies, of course. I understand Miss Temminnick’s brother has recently acquired a fiancée? And that you two have leave to attend his engagement masquerade?”

They nodded.

“Well, pay close attention, then, masquerade balls are ideal practice grounds.” She turned back and began instruction.

“She’s still angry about it,” hissed Dimity to Sophronia.

They had gone behind Lady Linette’s back to the headmistress with their absence request. Mademoiselle Geraldine would grant permission purely on the grounds of marriage prospects, despite the fact that neither girl was officially out. Lady Linette would have thwarted the whole thing; it wasn’t done to take off in the middle of session. But Mademoiselle Geraldine agreed with Sophronia that engagement balls were mandatory when one was related to the groom—it was the family’s only opportunity for ostentatious show. Dimity had taken more effort. Finally, they had hit upon the fact that Dimity’s birthday was around the same time. Mademoiselle Geraldine had proved amenable, and Lady Linette had been forced to make a show of following the headmistress’s orders.

“Seduction in its purest form is a never-ending acquisition of knowledge about another individual. Every male is a new challenge, every occasion warrants a different approach. Take the greatest of care when applying these techniques, for they can be more dangerous than actual weaponry.”

The girls all straightened. Lady Linette’s lessons were always interesting, but seduction was supposed to be the best. What young lady didn’t want to know how to manipulate a man? This was what finishing school was all about!

“You already have eyelash fluttering and flirting with fan and parasol, now let us consider holding a man’s gaze with intent and purpose. This can be perceived as a bold stance, an outright challenge, or an unspoken offer. Let me demonstrate.” Lady Linette came before each of them and with a few micromovements of lashes and lids demonstrated the differences among the three gazes. Each girl tried each gaze in return, feeling awkward, and then practiced on a partner for several minutes, feeling even more awkward. Periodically, fits of giggles interrupted the concentrated staring.

Eventually Dimity said, “Lady Linette, I don’t mean to be ignorant, but what, exactly, is the unspoken offer? I mean to say, how do I know if I don’t know, as it were?”

“Ah, yes, seduction. Have you read some of those horrid Gothics floating about? Oh, now, don’t be coy, I’ve seen copies of The Monk passing from hand to hand. It’s not forbidden, not at this school. Such an offer can encompass all things that men, as a general rule, require of women—from a kiss on the hand to one on the neck to the lips and beyond.”

Dimity’s eyes went owlish. “There’s a beyond?”

“Don’t interrupt, Miss Plumleigh-Teignmott. Where was I? Oh, yes. Then there is touching. A man may try to put his hands anywhere upon you, if you let him. A gentleman, of course, will ask first, but he will still try.”

“Anywhere?” squeaked Dimity.

“Anywhere,” said Lady Linette darkly.

“Oh, my.”

Sophronia giggled at Dimity’s awe. She herself was equipped with older brothers, several of whom attended university. Even before finishing school she had enjoyed eavesdropping on her family. As a result of indiscreet conversations between said brothers, she was rather more familiar with the intentions of young gentlemen than she ought to be. Apparently, gentlemen not only liked to kiss and touch women everywhere, they did that and more, on a regular basis, and mostly not with ladies at all, but with women of less genteel breeding. Some gentlemen, her brothers had whispered, even did it with each other. Although this was considered quite uncouth, Sophronia gathered, once one left Eton.

“Is that what the longing look is offering?” Dimity wanted to know.

“Generally speaking, yes. It is an invitation.”

“Oh, dear, rather powerful, isn’t it?”

Sophronia suspected Dimity would never look a man in the face again, for fear of issuing invitations.

“This is why you must master the differences among the three, not to mention the nature and length of the look itself. Facial expressions, my dears, can be thought of as part of one’s toilette. In fact, clothing can also transmit messages. Tight stays, for example, offer up to the gentleman the slenderness of one’s waist. Wouldn’t he like to put his hands about it? A low décolletage suggests that he might like to touch, just there.”

All the girls gasped. A few who were wearing dresses with low necklines surreptitiously tried to tug them up.

Sophronia found herself thinking of Felix Mersey. The young viscount had taken rather a shine to her, almost a year ago now, and they maintained a cautiously civil correspondence. The kind of correspondence no parent would sniff at. Although Sophronia’s mother might have had the vapors if she’d known her daughter was receiving missives from a duke’s son. Vapors of joy, mind you. Once or twice Sophronia had, rather desperately, searched between Felix’s brief lines of courteous discourse for something more. But Lord Mersey either hadn’t it in him to pen words of love, or had lost his taste for Sophronia after her Westminster Hive infiltration. In which case, his letters were mere formality from a gentleman who would not be so rude as to break off a courtship via the written word. Sophronia suspected the latter. After all, it would shake any gentleman’s regard to find the object of his affection dressed as a male dandy and cavorting about with a chimney sweep.

Not that Sophronia was at all sure she wanted such attentions from Lord Mersey. His father was a Pickleman. She had come to like some of the supernatural set, all of whom, she knew in her heart, the Picklemen would happily see dead. As much as she admired Felix’s slouch and overconfident flirtations, how could she reconcile his politics with her dislike of his father’s secret society?

Nevertheless, Sophronia found herself daydreaming about the upcoming masquerade. She’d written to Felix of the momentous occasion, more for something to say than in the hope that anything should come of it. But, of course, he’d managed to wangle himself an invitation—after all, he was training to be an evil genius and his father was a duke. If I wear a low-cut gown, she wondered, will Felix want to touch my décolletage? And do I want to lure him in because I think I may have lost him? Or do I want him for himself? He does have very nice eyes. And his waistcoat is always well fitted.

Sophronia cocked her head, considering. And would I want him to kiss me and more? Her pulse raced and she had to consciously slow her breathing so Lady Linette would not notice. It’s amazing that there are such possibilities inherent in just a longing look. Men really are weak willed.

Lady Linette stopped the looks and returned to instruction. “What were we discussing?”

“Um, touching,” said Preshea, in an unusually meek tone.

“Oh, yes. He may also wish to kiss there.”

“What, the décolletage?” Dimity squeaked.

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