Waistcoats & Weaponry Page 57

Sidheag interrupted what looked to become a lengthy flirtation. “May I remind you that we have flywaymen to deal with?”

“I can handle a few flywaymen. I’ve done it before.” Sophronia spoke with more confidence than she felt. After all, the last time hadn’t turned out at all well; Dimity had been shot.

They walked past the engine of the train.

Dimity referred to Monique in the doorway. “Saw your nicely strung-up slab of bacon.”

“Don’t insult bacon,” said Sidheag.

“I do my best work under stressful circumstances,” replied Sophronia.

The two flywaymen waved and hollered at them. “What ho!”

The flywaymen approached with amicable expressions on their faces. And seemed quite delighted to find the train apparently under the command of a scrappy band of larrikin boys.

“Young squires, how do you do this fine afternoon?” inquired one, with forced jocularity. He was a squarish, stubby sort, wind chafed, boasting a red nose in a round, pockmarked face.

The other, larger and angrier, had shaggy black hair and both hands shoved deep into his pockets, no doubt clutching some form of weaponry.

Sophronia was not one to abandon her lessons at a whim, so she played along by answering in kind. She forced her facial muscles and shoulders to relax. She splayed out her hands palms forward, tailoring her body movements to show openness and goodwill.

“Top of the day to you, my lords,” she said. “May we be of some kind of assistance? You seem to have landed on our track.”

“Now, now, young squire, you know that there is Her Majesty’s track,” said Stubby, still smiling.

“Indeed, indeed it is. How right you are, my lord. But, if at all possible, we should very much like to use it and are in a bit of a hurry.”

“Oh, are ye? And where are you off to in such a tearing rush with such an odd mix-up of a train? Are you not a little young for such heavy responsibility?”

Sidheag stepped forward, hackles up, less kind than Sophronia and in more of a hurry. They had played this hand before—the one pretending to be nice, the other… less nice.

“I am Lord Kingair and this train is under my commission.”

“Oh, is it indeed, lordly lad?” said Stubby, and then, with his smile made over nasty, he showed his intent in a manner most unwise. “What if I were to say that we should like to borrow it for a while?”

“We should say,” answered Sophronia, placing a hand ostentatiously on Sidheag’s arm as if to sooth Lord Kingair’s ruffled aristocratic feathers, “that you already had a perfectly serviceable dirigible. What would you want with our train?”

The flywaymen chuckled at this impertinence.

Stubby said, “It’s more what you want with us. Why have you been following us these three days?”

Now, that was interesting information. Was that what Monique had been doing? Following the airship by train? Why by train? Sophronia puzzled over the matter. I suppose it’s the only thing strong enough to haul two freights’ worth of aetherographic machine. Which means they must have been using the machine to track the airship! That was why the train kept pausing—they had to be still to use the valve. They must have known the ship would float over populated areas, or a train would be useless. But it would also explain why they wanted to stay secretive.

It took only a moment for Sophronia to realize all of this, and she weighed the merits of telling the flywaymen any of it. Best, she thought, to keep revelations about vampires as ammunition for when ammunition was necessary.

“I don’t know what you are on about,” she said, smiling broadly. “We simply wanted a little play time, off Bunson’s. A bit of a lark with a train. We found this one at Wootton Bassett and thought, why not? Lord Kingair here had a hankering to visit the relations, and Lord Mersey, Mr. Dim, and I thought we’d join him.”

Sophronia dropped each name and each nugget of information with purpose, paying close attention to the reactions of both flywaymen. The revelation that they were boys who had jumped a train on a lark appeared to engender relief. The fact that they were Bunson’s boys struck a spark of recognition in Stubby. The name Kingair and the intent to head north meant nothing. If they knew about the fuss with the Kingair Pack, they weren’t connecting it to Sidheag. But it was the name Lord Mersey that really gave them pause.

Both flywaymen focused on Felix in a panic.

Obligingly, Felix stepped forward. He had gone back to his old looks and expression—a paragon of aristocratic boredom. His slightly full lips were too pouty. His blue eyes weighed the world and found it wanting. He slouched just enough not to mess with the cut of a fine Bond Street jacket—had he been wearing one—nothing more than the indolent son of a powerful man. Here was a boy accustomed to getting anything he wanted out of life. He thought he could have her just as easily, and she adored teasing him with the fact that he could not. In that moment, Sophronia again found him wildly attractive.

The flywaymen reacted to Felix’s attitude. Even though they were criminals; even though they were little better than thieves of the sky; even though they were outside society—they could not deny hundreds of years of the British class system.

Sidheag was good at being autocratic. But her aura of command came out of an acerbic nature, from knowing that if upset she could eviscerate with her tongue. Felix, on the other hand, simply assumed superiority. One was compelled to obey him because of who he was, rather than what he might do.

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