Waistcoats & Weaponry Page 14

Sophronia said, “I don’t like to think it, but it would explain Sidheag’s behavior.”

Agatha, who knew Sidheag better than anyone, began to cry.

“Hush, now, we don’t know that’s what happened,” Sophronia tutted at her. “It could just be war. Queen Victoria is always sending her werewolves to fight on the front lines somewhere foreign.”

Bumbersnoot butted up against one of Agatha’s slippered feet, his tail wagging a little less, his floppy leather ears wiggling sympathetically.

Agatha blubbered, “But she does love him so. I know she talks gruff, but he’s her one and only Gramps. If he’s been hurt or killed…” Great fat tears trickled down her round, freckled face.

“Now, now, Agatha, where’s your handkerchief? You’ll come over all blotchy, and Professor Lefoux will notice in our next class. Can’t have that.” Sophronia bustled about collecting one of her spares.

Agatha tried to recover her emotions. She was terrified of Professor Lefoux. Professor Lefoux had no respect for finer feelings, even when they were being applied with purpose. Gadgets, felt Professor Lefoux, solved any problem.

Agatha disposed of one damp handkerchief, and by the time she’d finished with another, her sobs had subsided.

“Good girl,” said Sophronia.

Dimity said, “Sophronia’s right. We don’t know the real truth of any of it.”

Sophronia added, “If Sidheag doesn’t return, our only hope is that Soap has uncovered something of merit.”

Dimity and Agatha looked uncomfortable. They knew it meant Sophronia was sneaking out later that night on one of her clandestine visits to engineering. They also knew it meant Sophronia had no means of protecting Sidheag’s reputation, because if she had, she would be doing that instead.

Matron would come and Sidheag would not be there.

So it turned out to be.

SESSION 4: THE UNCLEANLINESS OF SOAP

While they nibbled a meal of baked cod, boiled aitch-bone of beef, carrots, turnips, and suet dumplings, Sophronia thought hard on which would be worse for Sidheag: being found missing on her own or having it known she was alone with a werewolf. After munching for a while in silence, Sophronia whispered, “We must try to hold off saying anything to anyone until tomorrow. Let me have a confab with Soap, see what he’s turned up. We can decide who to tell what before breakfast.”

Dimity blanched. “By which time Sidheag will have been out with him all night.”

Agatha added, looking down the table at Preshea, “And if anyone but us finds out, her reputation really will be in tatters.”

“Can’t be helped. At least we know Sidheag can handle a werewolf no matter his mood or form.”

Dimity put down the roll she was buttering. “Good thing we have Mademoiselle Geraldine after cards tonight.”

The other two nodded.

The headmistress was part of their training at the academy. She was kept in complete ignorance as to the clandestine nature of the lessons, so when they had a class with her it was real finishing. Mademoiselle Geraldine instructed them on manners, social niceties, tables of precedence, tea sipping, and the like. Any espionage techniques were assigned to them before they met with the headmistress, usually by Lady Linette. Luckily, tonight they already had instructions, so all Sophronia, Dimity, and Agatha had to do was avoid answering any uncomfortable questions as to their friend’s whereabouts during the course of the meal.

They managed all the way through to the sweets course, orange pudding with Naples biscuits and sherry. Then, by dint of running a boisterous and absorbing game of speculation after the pudding, they avoided any kind of private conference during cards.

They dawdled as much as possible while the mechanicals cleaned up, so that they had to glide with extreme rapidity on to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s class, on the far side of the airship. They utilized some of the lesser-known passageways, disturbing more than one servant mechanical. If she had known what was really going on, Lady Linette might indeed feel that she had trained her students too well. Or she might be proud. In any event, she couldn’t be too worried about Sidheag or they never would have gotten away with it.

Safely ensconced with Mademoiselle Geraldine, who was instructing them in how to flirt at a hunting party, tweed jodhpurs notwithstanding, they made it through to bedtime unencumbered.

By the time Lady Linette came around to check that lights were out at two in the morning, they were all three solidly asleep.

Sidheag’s bed was empty.

After Lady Linette closed the door to their parlor, Sophronia was out of bed with a glass to the jamb so quickly she managed to catch Lady Linette saying to Sister Mattie in the hall, “Unfortunately, Sister, I believe we have one missing—Lady Kingair. It’s going to be messy if we’ve misplaced an aristocrat. Even if she is Scottish.”

Sister Mattie, who had been checking on the debuts, said something sympathetic in a low tone. They moved down the hallway, out of eavesdropping range.

Sophronia’s nightgown was so voluminous she could pull it on over her preferred after-hours attire—a pair of her brother’s old breeches, with a corset under a gentleman’s shirt and a waistcoat over the top. Sophronia didn’t like to dress as a boy, not the way her friend Vieve did, but it was awfully practical for climbing. She scooped up Bumbersnoot, dressed in his frilly reticule disguise, and slung him over one shoulder. Bumbersnoot usually came with her to engineering. He liked to eat fallen bits of coal, and Sophronia thought it only right he go down to the boiler room and visit the mechanical gods. As Dimity had once said, “I wonder if engineering, for Bumbersnoot, is like church. Or am I being apocryphal?”

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