Waistcoats & Weaponry Page 33

“Oh, mercies, Lord Mersey. Yes, I see. Ha ha,” Sophronia was quick to respond.

“Don’t call her that,” said Soap, still entirely masked, following the other young man inside.

“I tried to stop them, but goodness, it’s nice to get away from all those ruffles,” said Pillover, trailing in last of all. He bent to pat Bumbersnoot, who clattered in greeting.

Sophronia said, “This is wonderful.” She walked to the door, stuck her head out, and said, “Would any other eligible young men like to join our party? I don’t know, to attract more of my mother’s unwanted attention?”

Dimity said, on a slight smile, although still tending to Sidheag’s finer feeling, “Be sensible, Sophronia, we don’t know any other eligible young men.”

The boys must have missed the two werewolves, for they made no mention of having seen the dewan. Lord Mersey, at least, would have recognized him and made some derogatory remark.

Pillover and Soap settled easily into the group. Pillover being Dimity’s brother, and Soap Sophronia’s friend, they assumed levels of intimacy that would have given Mrs. Temminnick hysterics. For one thing, they sat far too close to the young ladies.

Felix stayed to the outside, held back by society’s protocols. He pretended keen interest in Bumbersnoot.

“What’s the dilemma, ladies?” he asked, perceptive enough.

This was too much of a crisis to stand on social airs. “Come sit, Felix,” Sophronia said, intentionally dropping his title. “This is an emergency, no time for folderol. Soap, take off that ridiculous mask.”

Felix started when Soap removed the mask. “You! The chimney sweep.”

Soap swept him a seated bow. “The same.”

Felix spluttered.

Sophronia interrupted before things could get out of hand. “Both of you, behave. Now, Sidheag, what do you need from us? More tea?”

Dimity began pouring for everyone. When it became clear the pot was likely to run dry, she went to the door, corralled a clangermaid, revived the pot, and returned, having wedged the door shut with an armchair as added precaution.

“We have about a quarter of an hour before Mumsy realizes the boys are missing,” said Sophronia, consulting a pocket watch.

Felix was glaring at Soap. Now that he knew who Soap really was, Felix was upset at being challenged during a dance by a sootie.

Soap was focused on Sidheag. He considered her a friend—they had sparred on occasion. He liked her masculine ways and acerbic attitude. He respected her as a decent gambler. No icing on Miss Maccon, he was prone to saying. “Miss Maccon, I’ve never seen you upset afore. What’s happened?”

Pillover sat cross-legged on the floor, Bumbersnoot in his lap, attitude mostly sympathetic. Although he did seem morosely pleased to be in the company of someone as unhappy as he.

Dimity relayed Sidheag’s tale of woe, avoiding mention of the dewan. It was intelligencer instinct that caused her to withhold that bit of information, but Sophronia agreed with her decision. Felix didn’t need to know everything; his father was a Pickleman, after all. The Picklemen were probably elated by the werewolf crisis.

During the telling, Lord Mersey, unaccustomed to all attention being on someone other than him, came timidly over and drew up a small hassock to sit on, joining the circle by the fire. He wisely held his tongue, but Sophronia could practically read his mind: Who cares what happens to a pack of werewolves? Good riddance to bad rubbish. But he knew himself to be in the minority. He was also, Sophronia hoped, a genuinely decent enough person to sympathize with Sidheag over the loss of a loved one—whether or not he approved of that loved one’s condition. Maybe seeing her distress would make him think that not all supernaturals were bad. Then again, Kingair had just tried to kill the queen. What a pickle this was.

Sophronia wasn’t sure what to think. She wished, inexplicably, that she could get Lord Akeldama’s perspective. Vampires and werewolves were mainly uninterested in one another’s private affairs, except where they crossed into alliance with the Queen of England. They were protective of their unusual acceptance in British Government and guarded it jealously as the only supernaturals in the known world with legal status. Which explained the dewan’s involvement. He had to fix this. The stability of the nation depended on it. There you go, thought Sophronia, perhaps I don’t need to talk to Lord Akeldama to understand after all.

They sat drinking tea and suggesting possible plans of action, consoling Sidheag with words and imagined deeds.

Sidheag remained mainly monosyllabic but after her third cup took a deep, shaky breath. “Thank you all for being so kind. But I know what I have to do. It’s only… Sophronia, I’ll need your help.”

“Of course.” Sophronia looked up, eager to be of assistance. She hated the feeling of helplessness her friend’s misery engendered.

“I have to go home to Kingair. Now. Right away.” Sidheag’s expression pleaded with her not to argue.

Sophronia nodded. Her mind was already on it.

“You want to follow Captain Niall?” Dimity had seen that intimate look exchanged between their tall, angular friend and the handsome werewolf.

“My pack needs me. Kingair needs me.”

The train is probably fastest, Sophronia was thinking. “You can help them?” was what she said. The right train and we might even beat them there, as the werewolves have to lock down tomorrow night. She did some quick calculations in her head.

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