Sidheag wrinkled her nose. They have, she gestured toward her own nether regions with one hand, a sort of dangly sausagelacks tailoring. Brilliant description, brilliant! If ever there was an enjoyable book featuring a Mary Sue of a heroine, this is it.
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Dangerous Puddings Miss Temminnick. Miss Plumleigh-Teignmott. With me, please, ladies. She was glad of the distraction. She was convinced she was miscalculating the purchase of the three most deadly flower arrangements.
Does one need four fully grown foxgloves for decorating a dinner table for six guests? Or is it six foxgloves to kill four fully grown guests?
Unfortunately, what Sophronia saw when she looked up did not fill her with confidence. Lady Linette stood at the front of the class wearing an austere expression that clashed with her copious yellow curls and a bonnet covered with drooping silk lilacs. She was wearing a good deal of face paint and a purple- and-jade plaid dress of immense proportions. It was neither her expression nor her location at the front of the class that made Sophronia nervous. Sophronia and her age-group were to go to Lady Linette after tea, for drawing room music and subversive petits fours.
Ordinarily, it was Dimity daydreaming and Sophronia having to chivy her along. Sophronia leapt to her feet. I was so very absorbed. Foxglove quantities can be most illuminating. An excuse couched in terms of academic interest. Nevertheless, we must be away. Not even when flywaymen attacked. Young ladies of quality stayed in class in times of strife. That was quite rude! They returned traumatized and silent. To no avail. Sister Mattie was unperturbed by the interruption, sitting placidly in her mock- religious attire behind a wide desk surrounded by potted plants and bottles of deadly poison or tea concentrate, one never knew which.
The girls saw her as a nice sort of mystery and one of the more benign teachers, so they mostly respected her eccentric choice of dress. Sidheag and Agatha tensed sympathetically.
Monique and Preshea sat with arms crossed and ill- contained delight on their faces. Sophronia wended her way through the plush chairs and rolltop writing desks to the front, where she curtsied before Lady Linette.
It was a perfectly executed curtsy, not too deep, with a slight tilt to her head but not enough to seem obsequious. Agatha rarely spoke, so it had to be something serious. Sophronia sidled up next to Dimity.
The hallway was hardly big enough to accommodate two ladies in full day gowns side by side. Their multiple skirts smushed together. Neither minded the wrinkles as they linked arms for comfort. Its corridors twisted and turned in a noodlelike manner. Sometimes the passageways led up stairs or out onto balconies. Most of the time, they simply got darker, lit by gas lamps that looked like upside-down parasols.
Lady Linette led them toward the upper squeak decks. These open-air decks sat under the massive balloons that kept the academy afloat and adrift over Dartmoor. It was an odd place to be headed at this time of day. The two girls swung to flatten themselves against the wall, like a hinged gate, so a maid mechanical could roll past.
Its face was a mosaic of gears instead of the metal masks worn by most menials. It had a white pinafore over its conical body and gave the impression of busy superciliousness. If the students had been alone, the maid would have whistled the alarm upon encountering them, but Dimity and Sophronia were in the company of Lady Linette.
All the models, from buttlinger to footmech to clangermaid, had protocols that instructed them to ignore students in the company of teachers. Sophronia had once seen a footmech model carrying a whole stack of doilies, some of them quite deadly, from Sister Mattie to Professor Lefoux. Sophronia had thought, after six months, that she had most of the school mapped.
While the massive dining hall and exercise facilities above the warehouse and propeller engine areas were familiar to her, Sophronia and Dimity were being taken farther up. She ignored the comment and quickened her pace.
Sophronia and Dimity bounced in order to keep up—they had not yet had lessons on rapid walking in full skirts, though both of them were admirable gliders at a more leisurely pace. This section of the ship smelled of old candle wax, chalk powder, and pickled onions. The mechanical track was not oiled properly and there was dust in the corner grippers.
The walls were hung with paintings of disapproving elderly females and framed feats of crochet. Finally, Lady Linette stopped in front of a door. It reminded Sophronia a little of the record room. The record room infiltrators of several months ago had never been caught. Sophronia wanted to keep it that way.
Lady Linette closed the door behind her. It looked very like the difference engine she had seen last summer when her family visited the Crystal Palace.
This one, however, was not being used for sums. It was rigged and draped with objects—fabric hung at the back, paintings dangled, and a few pots and pans drooped uncertainly to one side. Sophronia frowned. What did she call it? Oh, yes, an oddgob machine. Next to the oddgob, positioned to operate a crank, was a mechanical designed to accompany the apparatus. Sophronia faced both, hands crossed lightly at her waist, a position that Lady Linette encouraged her girls to assume whenever at a loss for action.
Bow your head slightly and you can still observe through the lashes, which is becoming. This exposes the back of the neck, an indication of vulnerability. Dimity, of course, crossed her hands divinely.
Sophronia worked to relax her shoulders. Neither the machine nor the mechanical seemed to care, for nothing happened even when her posture was perfect. Sophronia said, "Good afternoon. I believe you are waiting for me? Debut upmark," it said, clicking as a metal tape fed through its voice box. Not knowing what else to do, Sophronia said, "Yes? An oil painting flipped over from the top of the engine and dropped down, dangling from conveyer chains. It depicted a girl in a blue dinner dress, decades out of style, that embarrassing nightgown look.
The subject was pretty, with cornflowers in her hair, enjoying an evening gathering. The mechanical continued cranking, and the painting was jerked away. A hatch opened, and a full tea service on a silver tray rolled forth. Sophronia stepped forward, feeling silly. The service was for four.
The tea in the pot was cold. She hesitated. Ordinarily, she would have dumped the contents into the receptacle and sent it back with sharp words to the cook. Do I act as I would in real life? Or am I to pretend to serve the tea regardless?
The mechanical was still whirring, indicating that she had only a set amount of time to decide. Sophronia served. She did as etiquette demanded, pouring her own cup first and then the others.
With no one to ask if they wanted sugar or if they would prefer lemon, she only checked to ascertain both were provided. The sugar pot was half full. There were four slices of dry lemon. Like the tea, they had been sitting for some time. She opened the top of the pot and checked the leaf. Top quality. As was the tea set—Wedgwood blue, or a very good imitation. She sniffed the pot, the milk, and the cups.
They all smelled as they should, although one of the cups might have boasted a slight lavender odor.
Curtsies & Conspiracies
Curtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School Series #2)