Waistcoats & Weaponry Page 37

The balloons caught a breeze and they bobbed up a bit.

Sophronia held up her hands to be lifted inside.

“What in heaven’s name is going on here?” came Petunia’s shocked voice. She appeared as if by magic around the side of Mumsy’s rhododendrons.

“Cut us free, Pillover!” yelled Sophronia, dangling off the side. Felix had both his hands wrapped around one of her wrists and Soap the other.

“Sophronia Angelina Temminnick, what on earth are you doing to the gazebo now?”

Pillover unlashed the airdinghy from where it had been tied to the gazebo columns.

It lifted sedately upward.

“Wait,” cried Petunia, “come back here this instant! You can’t just drift off with a duke’s son. That’s not sporting!”

Felix and Soap hauled Sophronia into the gondola. She blessed the split skirt of her costume; it allowed her to leg over and land on her feet inside. She turned to look back at her sister.

“Sorry, Petunia, but this is an emergency. I’m only borrowing him for a bit.”

Petunia stood, head tilted back, watching them float away. Pillover slouched over to stand next to her. They were outside earshot, so Sophronia had no idea what he said, but to everyone’s surprise, Petunia seemed mollified. She took his arm, and he led her with great dignity back toward the house.

“He’s coming out well, for a pustule,” said Dimity, with evident pride.

“He may have found his calling at last,” said Sophronia. “Hoodwinking my sisters. That’s no mean feat. We have brothers, too; we’re usually immune to their charms.”

Dimity chuckled. “Imagine Pill, with charms! What a hoot.”

Sidheag said, in all seriousness, “He should be at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, he’d make a great intelligencer. No one should ever believe it of him.” She turned to face inside and assess how they were handling the airdinghy.

Soap was concentrating on manning the sail, as if he actually knew what he was about.

“Do you know what you are doing, Soap?” Sophronia asked.

“Not really, miss, but someone’s got to.”

“So, which way is north?” asked Sidheag.

Sophronia leaned over the side of the basket, squinting into the night, looking for the lights of Wootton Bassett. The basket tilted and Dimity hurried to counterbalance.

Sophronia pointed. “That way, more east than north for now. Everyone look out for a big clock face. That’ll be the nearest railway station.”

With no propeller, they had to drift up and down, searching for a breeze headed in the correct direction. Finally, they hooked into one that carried them along at a sedate pace. This was not exactly a high-speed, high-risk endeavor. Fortunately for them, Pillover seemed to have adequately distracted Petunia, and the mechanical malfunction seemed to have adequately distracted everyone else. Sophronia kept looking back, but no carriage or horseman came galloping after them.

Dimity gave a little cry. “There it is!”

Indeed, there it was—a small clock tower, peeking up above the other buildings of the town. Soap grabbed at the tiller and the airdinghy obligingly slid to one side. Thus they approached the station silently, a small bobbing craft within the damp night.

While Soap and Felix bickered mildly over how best to steer, Sidheag turned to Sophronia. “We can catch a train north there?”

Sophronia hated to disappoint. “Wootton Bassett’s not very big and, as a general rule, people are going through it to somewhere else. Not many trains stop, and when they do it’s either east to London or Oxford, or west to Bristol.”

“Well, I certainly don’t want to go back to London.”

“Nor do you want to go to Bristol. Who would?” said Dimity, a decidedly snobbish tone to her voice.

“We need one heading to Oxford?” suggested Sidheag.

Sophronia nodded. “From there we can switch to a northbound line. I’m worried there won’t be one until morning, but it’s worth a try. Wootton rarely gets nighttime passenger trains.”

The other two knew what that meant. If a passenger could get somewhere quickly, and with all the modern conveniences of first class, there was no need for overnight service. Vampires couldn’t leave their territory, and werewolves could move faster on four paws than a train on rails.

Nevertheless, Sophronia had hopes. “There are sometimes freight trains puffing through at night—out of the ports. We might be able to jump one of those, although freight will be going to London. We’d have to scramble to hop a passenger halfway to get to Oxford.”

Sidheag looked doubtful. A freight train wouldn’t stop at Wootton Bassett unless they flagged it down. “Do you have a plan?”

“Of course,” said Sophronia, but then added in confusion, “Except it doesn’t look like I need it. See there?”

They were coming in over the station, and lo and behold, there was a train, sitting patiently, as if waiting for them.

“My, that one is a peculiar-looking beast,” Sophronia said, tilting her head in confusion.

“Looks pretty enough to me,” responded Sidheag, who clearly had great, if blind, affection for the railway.

Sophronia summoned Felix. “Lord Mersey, stop bothering Soap and come look at this.”

“I’m not bothering anyone!” Felix left off trying to fly the airship and came to stand next to Sophronia at the side of the basket. Dimity and Sidheag stayed to the opposite side. It was a dance they’d been conducting since they floated off, in order to properly weight the four balloons.

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