Waistcoats & Weaponry Page 42

Sophronia couldn’t have explained, if asked, how she knew Soap’s intentions so clearly. But she did. She also couldn’t have explained why it hurt so much. But it did.

They stood watch in a silence so awkward it burned the backs of Sophronia’s eyes.


Sophronia woke Dimity with the firm shoulder grab of silence. It was a technique they’d applied before they even knew it was trained into intelligencers.

Dimity awoke quietly, automatically reaching beneath her nonexistent pillow for a weapon. It was an instinct ill suited to Dimity, like watching a duck eat custard. But sometimes Dimity was surprisingly stealthy. She would have to unlearn a great many things, if she actually ended up as a real lady.

“Your watch, my dear,” Sophronia whispered. “The sun is almost up.”

Dimity knuckled her eyes; only four hours’ sleep, but she was willing to do her duty—true friendship, that.

Soap, still at the door, stretched languidly, looking exhausted.

Sophronia went to wake Sidheag.

“Let her sleep,” said Felix’s voice from the floor. “I’ll take it. She needs the rest.”

“Very gentlemanly of you, Lord Mersey,” approved Dimity, offering him a hand up.

Felix looked at her aghast. As if he would accept aid from a lady! He wasn’t in that sorry a state, although Sophronia was sure it had been an uncomfortable night on the floor. The kohl was smudged about his eyes and his hair was sweetly rumpled. Sophronia found it most disturbing—it made him look less aloof and more approachable.

Sophronia said, “If you’re sure. You know you actually have to keep watch? Do they teach you useful things like that at Bunson’s?”

Felix gave her a dirty look. “I suspect Miss Plumleigh-Teignmott can demonstrate the particulars.”

“I intend to climb up top to watch the sun rise, check on the airdinghy, and get the lay of the land.”

Soap paused at that, before folding himself reluctantly to the floor. Sophronia had expected him to insist on accompanying her.

But it was Felix who said, “Is that wise?”

Sophronia answered, “The wise would never have left the ball in the first place. I’ll be quick, and I want to retrieve my hurlie, my wrist feels bare without it.”

Felix looked to Soap for support. “You aren’t going to stop her?”

Soap said, “Kind of you to think I could, little lordling.”

Felix glared.

Soap leaned back against the sack of costumes, head under the window, eyes heavy lidded, watching the door. He pointed at Bumbersnoot, who had moved to sit expectantly under a bench in one corner. “Can’t be too important or she’d take him with her.”

Sophronia felt a glow of pride. Soap understood her! And he trusted her. Why couldn’t Felix be more like that?

Felix, strangely, took that to heart and raised no more objections.

So with Dimity and Felix posted by the door, Sophronia creaked it open and, hugging the side of the train, inched her way out onto the footboard.

It was wet and nasty, and had she not had practice on the damp exterior of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s she certainly would have lost purchase.

Sophronia felt exposed and vulnerable. She jumped, trying to catch the top railing. She wished fervently for her hurlie as she missed and slid on the landing. She tried again, putting her will and strength into it, and managed to catch the railing and hoist herself up onto the roof. Strangely, she felt less exposed up high. As she had learned during her climbing adventures about the school, people rarely looked up.

The sun rose and the clouds lifted a little. She could see, far ahead on the horizon, the tall tower of a junction box. This train, unless she was mistaken, was not expected, and no one would be manning that switch. They’d have to stop, check it, and change it over to the desired direction. She was about to witness their hosts. Would they look back at the train and see the balloon?

Sophronia crawled along the top of the carriage to the airdinghy, which was still safely strapped down. She considered knocking it off, and then decided it would make too loud a crash in the morning quiet. So she merely detached her hurlie and strapped it back in its customary place on her wrist.

She should have returned to the others at that point, but this was her first opportunity to explore without having to worry about their safety. She was dying of curiosity. What was the valuable freight in those middle cars?

She walked to the front of their carriage, jumped the coupler, and climbed across the roof of the next carriage. She moved softly and slowly, so her footsteps could not be heard by any possible passengers. She sensed that this carriage was as empty as theirs, but she didn’t know that. In front of her was the first freight carriage. From the air she’d thought it looked like a cattle cart, but up close it was a shock.

The top part of the freight carriage was, in fact, completely open to the sky. It seemed to be transporting a structure of some kind, a horse shed or similar, which boasted its own wooden roof. She suspected that there was an entrance from the front of the carriage, but in order to get there, she would have to climb across that roof, and she had no idea if it was secure or not. She risked it anyway.

Cautiously, she crawled about, examining the shed for clues. There were some funny-looking protrusions out the roof. One of them like a big metal cuspidor, another like the top part of a tuba. Eventually, she found a hatch. It was made so that something from the inside could telescope out. It didn’t seem big enough to fit a person, but she could fit her head.

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