Home > Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School #3)(9)

Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School #3)(9)
Gail Carriger

“Quite often.”

Sophronia, thinking of her brothers’ lewd talk, asked, “And elsewhere?”

Lady Linette smiled. “Well, yes, the very best ones like to kiss all over.”

Most of the girls inhaled in shock, and then began asking questions all at once. What did it feel like? Was it nice or was it damp? After touching and kissing, what happened? And could this really all start with simply staring directly into a man’s face at a ball?

Agatha looked as if she would like to faint. Dimity’s cheeks were rosy with embarrassment, but she was utterly enthralled. Sophronia hated to admit it, but so was she.

Lady Linette held up a hand as the wave of curiosity crashed over her. Had she been a more sensitive individual, like Sister Mattie, she might have been embarrassed by the unladylike enthusiasm. But Lady Linette was an expert in manipulation, and if knowledge of connubial relations would arm her girls better in how to infiltrate society, then she would deliver unto them the necessary.

“Calm down, ladies, do. Let us practice a few more initial seduction techniques, and discuss more on the consequences later. We are all a little overwrought at the moment. Suffice it to say that you must remember all the rules of polite society. No more than two dances with the same gentleman. No longer than the space of a dance and a half hour in one man’s company. Do not walk out with a male alone, especially not to the conservatory, unless you are related. The goal is always to keep yourself safe from ruin or accusations thereof. After you have mastered the initial looks, we will move on to the seduction itself, and the boundaries that you must keep in place to protect your reputation. I will discuss how to employ canoodles and of which variety, without being caught. We may even study some light anatomy. Anything more than that, I hope you all understand, is reserved for the marriage bed. It is your mother’s responsibility to explain such details of that situation to you as she sees fit.”

An audible sigh of disappointment met this statement.

The girls then spent a most enjoyable hour practicing longing looks without any true understanding of what might result. It wasn’t all that different from the entirety of their education at the academy. In a strange way, it was like practicing to kill someone with a bladed fan when one had yet to experience any actual act of assassination. Sophronia found herself more worried about how to respond to an imagined Felix kiss—the amount of pressure, what if there was excess saliva, where to put one’s hands?—than she was about dealing out death. Although the concerns were oddly similar—amount of pressure, what if there was excess blood, how to keep one’s gloves clean?

Of course, Sophronia had kissed Soap. Or more precisely, Soap had kissed her. Which had managed to be both comforting and unsettling. She didn’t like to think about her friend in that way. Although, when she let herself, Sophronia was all too apt to ruminate upon Soap’s kiss. It had been a very nice kiss. And she hadn’t worried about pressure or saliva or her hands; Soap had taken care of all of it. He was like that. Felix would be different. So very publicly suitable, a duke’s son, yet so very politically unsuitable, that duke’s son. Sophronia admitted to titillation; Felix was a challenge.

Sophronia shook off thoughts of both boys, which wasn’t easy when practicing seduction. Thinking of Soap, she found, turned her longing gaze into one of frustration and puzzlement. And thinking of Felix made Dimity, her partner, come over very fidgety.

“Sophronia, don’t look at me like that!”

“Like what?”

“All wistful, it makes me uncomfortable.”

“Isn’t that the point?”

“I don’t know, is it? Lady Linette, please come assess Sophronia’s look. I think she’s executing it wrong.”

Lady Linette duly came over and Sophronia duly looked at her and thought of Felix.

Lady Linette blinked back at her, impassive. “No, I think that is rather good. Perhaps a bit too much of an offer, Miss Temminnick. Can you tone it down slightly?”

Sophronia tried to think of both Felix and Soap at once.

“Oh, dear me, no, dear. No. Better the first time. Keep practicing.”

Sophronia tried again.

Preshea said, “Ooooh, Sophronia, who are you thinking about?” Exchanging smug glances with a few of her cronies, she added, “I wager we can guess.”

When Sophronia did not answer, Preshea added, “And how is our dear Lord Mersey?” There was an edge of bitterness to the sly question. She had rather fancied the young viscount for herself. Miss Preshea Buss was so pretty, she resented that he seemed so concentrated on plain, brown Sophronia.

Sophronia replied, blandly, “He’s well, thank you for asking. Should I tender your regards?” The implication being, of course, that she had the right of correspondence when Preshea did not.

Preshea tossed her glossy black curls. “No, thank you. Besides, you’ll see him before another letter gets through.”

“Indeed I will, at my brother’s soiree.” Sophronia’s tone was deceptively mild. “With ample time for conversation, as he has already requested the dinner dance.”

At which every girl in the room glanced at her with envy. Sophronia hadn’t meant to antagonize the whole class. She’d only meant to use the social cachet to quiet Preshea.

“Ladies, a little less gossip, a little more longing looks!” reprimanded their teacher. “Sophronia, you might consider your choice of escort with better care in the future. Lord Mersey is not on the agenda for a marriage of infiltration, and Picklemen do not make good patrons.” Sophronia was duly chastised.

The others got back to it, giggling softly among themselves.

Dimity asked Sophronia, “Did he really ask you for the dinner?”

“No, but he will.”

“Are you sure? I thought you were afraid you’d lost him.”

Sophronia fanned out her gloved hands in a gesture of dismissal. “Perhaps, but not to Preshea, I haven’t! Besides, he’s still interested enough to come to my family’s masquerade. Although that could be because as a gentleman he can only politely break off with me in person.”

Dimity nodded her understanding. “If you learn these seduction lessons well, you might be able to keep him. Despite Lady Linette’s opinion, I think he’s a delicious prospect. For fun, if nothing else. I should like to see you try.”

Sophronia firmed up her spine. “You’re right! Let’s practice.”

They tried diligently for the next twenty minutes. Sophronia wished for Sidheag. She was very good on the subject of understanding the male psyche, having grown up in a werewolf pack, all of them soldiers, not to mention visits with the rest of the regiment regularly. Her knowledge was far more complete than Sophronia’s bits of gleaned gossip from indiscreet brothers.

At the end of the lesson, Dimity and Agatha scuttled off, eager to return to their private chambers, hoping that Sidheag would be waiting there, pigeon crisis averted. Dimity carried Sophronia’s hurlie safely stashed in her reticule, out of Lady Linette’s clutches.

That good lady rarely forgot anything. “Well, Miss Temminnick, give it to me.”

“Lady Linette?”

“The unregistered wrist claw thing you used to save yourself earlier this evening.”

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