Waistcoats & Weaponry Page 51

We are exhausted by each other’s company. Lady Linette had warned that such things were apt to happen at house parties. The only ones who seemed to be weathering the confining quarters well were Soap and Bumbersnoot. Sophronia supposed Soap was accustomed to being confined to engineering. Plus, he was content to let Sophronia handle bickering aristocrats. Bumbersnoot, on the other hand, was disposed to enjoy himself no matter what. A very doggy quality.

Sophronia wanted to ask Soap’s advice. He was unofficial mayor of the sooties; how did he lead them without constant dissent? She thought back over the course of their friendship, only now realizing how often he had given her counsel. Had this untenable romantic affection of his destroyed that as well? What will I do without him? When he’s gone off and turned claviger, I’ll no longer have any balance.

Soap saw her looking at him, her green eyes grave and pleading. He tilted his head at her in query. But there was no privacy to ask him anything. An uninformed decision had to be made. Fortunately, uninformed decisions were Sophronia’s speciality.

Sophronia said, into the silence of discontent that permeated the coach, “Are we agreed that there are few people on this train, possibly only Monique and three others?”

“Sophronia, what are you planning?” wondered Dimity, knowing that tone in her friend’s voice.

“Soap, how different are steam engines in trains from steam engines in dirigibles?”

“Not a great deal. I believe the basics are pretty much the same, miss.”

“Sidheag, you did a bit of stoking when we were down with the sooties, yes?”

“Of course, you know me, I never mind getting my hands dirty.”

Speaking of dirty, Felix gave Sidheag a very dirty look at that statement. “One simply can’t trust the Scottish aristocracy,” he grumbled.

Sophronia nodded, decision made. “Good. I think we should steal this train.”

Possibly as a result of being restless, possibly because they were accustomed to her outrageous ideas, there was no outcry at such a bold statement. Sophronia was a little disappointed.

Everyone looked mainly thoughtful.

“That sounds reasonable,” said Dimity. Dimity, of all people!

“We could get it going faster and straight toward home,” said Sidheag, brightening up substantially.

Even Soap, the voice of Sophronia’s reason, looked excited, if slightly peevish. “I’ve never driven a train before.”

Felix only blinked at them all in silent horrified wonder.

They pooled their resources.

Sophronia, with all her pockets, was the best equipped. Dimity and Sidheag both had red handkerchiefs, lemon-scented oils, and sewing shears. Sophronia gave her shears to Felix and her letter opener to Soap, preferring to rely on her new bladed fan. There was some discussion over the use of the obstructor—was it better applied in the aetherographic chamber? Finally, they decided Sophronia should take it with her to the locomotive cab. In case they needed to stop the train in a hurry, it could, theoretically, seize up the engine. Although Sophronia had never used it on anything so large.

Soap said, while Sophronia checked the condition of her two gadgets and strapped one to each wrist, “Funny, miss, how you’ve got the hurlie for the charge forward and the obstructor for the opposite, stopping an attack.”

Sophronia smiled at the symbolism. “I guess I do, don’t I?”

“Evenhanded balance in this as in everything else?” suggested Soap, mildly. Showing that he, at least, cared for her political beliefs.

Dimity shouldered Bumbersnoot in his lacy reticule disguise.

Only then did Felix throw his hands into the air. “Are you all completely biscuit minded? How will you steal a train? It’s on tracks, you realize? And it’s huge. It’s not as if people won’t be able to trace where you’re going or see you coming.”

They hid it in plain sight, of course.

That was Sophronia’s plan. They had thought the train might be transporting a circus when they first saw it, so they carried that idea forward.

Much to Dimity’s distress, this involved ripping her gold masquerade gown into streamers. Sidheag and Felix hung these off the roof railings on the two passenger carriages. Soap, Sophronia, and Dimity righted the airdinghy and draped the balloons to flutter off the back of the train. It did look rather like a carnival carrier.

“People won’t question the presence of an odd-looking train if it contains entertainers,” insisted Sophronia.

Dimity grimaced, brushing off her hands and looking around. “My poor dress.”

Finished with the streamers, Felix climbed over, looking harried. “How will we get through stations, not to mention switches? You can’t know how to work those. And what about, oh, I don’t know, crashing into an oncoming locomotive!” His voice rose slightly in hysteria as he ranted. Sophronia was impressed; she hadn’t thought he had it in him to get so upset. It was kind of adorable.

“They must have timetables in the engine room? Mustn’t they?” said Sidheag. “We’ll stick to the regional tracks and avoid local passenger carriers. We’ll be perfectly fine. After all, Monique is already doing it. What matter if we take over?”

It was always nice to have Sidheag on one’s side. Such a good egg.

“And you think the vampires will let us simply trundle off with their aetherographic transmitter?” Felix scoffed.

Sophronia arranged the last collapsed balloon to her satisfaction. “If this were a hive collective maneuver, they’d have more drones on board. I think this is Westminster’s gambit. That’s why so few passengers. The farther we get from London, the less their influence.”

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