Authors: Gail Carriger
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction / Steampunk, #Juvenile Fiction / Girls & Women, #Juvenile Fiction / Social Issues / Manners & Etiquette, #Juvenile Fiction / Historical / General, #Juvenile Fiction / Action & Adventure / General
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unambulist,” said Sophronia Temminnick, quite suddenly.
“Sophronia, such language!” Dimity Plumleigh-Teignmott reprimanded.
“Pardon?” said Agatha Woosmoss.
Sidheag Maccon, the final member of Sophronia’s group, muttered, “Bless you.”
“I wasn’t sneezing, nor being indelicate, thank you all very much. I was thinking out loud.”
“As if thinking out loud weren’t
indelicate.” Dimity was not to be swayed out of disapproval when she felt it might exercise her creativity.
. Do you think that’s what Professor Braithwope was, you know,
, before he became a vampire? A tightrope walker in a carnival?”
“I suppose it’s possible,” said Dimity, mollified.
With which, the four girls all returned to staring over the railing of the squeak deck. They were, theoretically, in class with some ten fellow students and Professor Braithwope. It was their vampire teacher’s custom of late to administer decidedly oddball lessons. Which is to say, more oddball than an ordinary lesson with a vampire in a floating dirigible espionage school.
It was a drizzly January evening, 1853, the sun recently set, and Professor Braithwope was currently twirling back and forth along the thin plank that stretched from the forward-most squeak deck’s railing to the pilot’s bubble. He was leagues up in the air.
Sophronia had watched the professor run that particular plank with deadly grace the very first day she came aboard Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. She’d never anticipated watching him
along it. Admittedly, he danced with no less grace than he ran, performing some sedate quadrille with an imaginary partner. However, he was doing so while balancing a flowerpot on his head, one that contained Sister Mattie’s prize foxglove. Before his troubles, Professor Braithwope would never leave his room without a top hat occupying that sacred spot on his glossy brown coiffure. But for months his behavior had become increasingly erratic; witness the fact that he also wore an old-fashioned black satin cape with a high collar and scarlet lining. His fangs were extended, causing him to lisp slightly, and he punctuated his quadrille with a maniacal laugh that, if inscribed for posterity, might have been written as “Mua ha ha.”
“Should one of us go after him?” Sophronia worried that he would fall to his doom. Plummeting to the moor would snap his
tether to the dirigible, and it was tether-snap that had caused his madness in the first place.
“Why?” Preshea turned to her. “Are you some kind of tightrope walker yourself?”
Since the Dratted Monique had matriculated on to a new life as drone to Westminster vampire hive, Miss Preshea Buss had taken over all residual nastiness. She netted herself a group of stylish associates from among the new debuts, too young to know better.
Sophronia ignored Preshea and looked at Dimity. “What do you think?”
Professor Braithwope pirouetted. Far below, the wet grasses and prickly gorse slid by, partly visible through the mist.
“Perhaps someone should go for matron?” suggested Dimity.
“Or Lady Linette?” said Agatha.
“Is it all that different from any of our other lessons with the idiot?” asked Preshea. She and the rest of the class enjoyed the fact that their hours spent with Professor Braithwope had turned into a free-for-all with little guidance or actual work.
“He’s not usually this bad.” Sophronia didn’t wish to be thought a goody-goody, especially not at a school of espionage, but she wanted their old mercurial professor back: the one who taught them to manipulate vampire politics; to use fashion to confuse and kill; to interact with government, high society, and curling tongs. This new vampire was bonkers, in a flowerpot-wearing way, and not at all useful. She understood why the school kept him on. Since he was tethered here, he must stay on board and couldn’t be retired groundside. So far, he didn’t
dangerous to anyone but himself, but it was difficult to
forget that he was a crazy immortal and they all were, in the end, food.
Sophronia’s green eyes narrowed. Perhaps he was being used as a new kind of lesson: how to deal with a risky vampire in a powerful position.
Professor Braithwope whirled to face the sea of staring faces: a dozen bright, pretty young ladies, confused, amused, and concerned by his quadrille. “Ah, class! There you are, whot. Now remember, no matter how high, there is always time for frivolity or politics, whot?”
Sophronia perked up. Were they about to
“Speech,” encouraged Preshea.
“We are all Queen Victoria’s subjects, vampire or werewolf. We owe her allegiance. Only in England do we have a voice, a vote, and a snack. We help build the Empire, we keep our noble island strong.”
Sophronia frowned. This was not new information. This was simply the progressive party stance.
“We have been members since King Henry’s day. Or should I say night? My, but he was
. And no pickle should relish that sandwich!” He finished there, arms wide.
The young ladies all clapped politely.
“Now, who would like to dance? One of you must be willing to trip the light mahogany? Miss Temminnick? You would not deny me a dance, whot?”
Sophronia adjusted her skirts. This might be the only way to get him back onto the squeak deck.
“Now, Sophronia,” warned Dimity, “don’t do anything
hasty.” She was one of the few who knew that Sophronia felt guilty over their teacher’s insane condition.
Sophronia levered herself onto the railing and from there, the plank. It was just as narrow and as slippery as she expected. Her wide, heavy dress—held out with multiple petticoats—acted as ballast. She inched toward the vampire, not looking down.
At one point she slipped slightly and wobbled, arms pinwheeling.
Behind her, all the gathered young ladies gasped.
Dimity let out a small shriek.
Sophronia heard Agatha say, “I can’t watch. Tell me when it’s over.”
“Sophronia!” said Preshea. “Come back here this instant. What are you doing? What if you fall? Can you imagine the scandal? This is ridiculous. Agatha, go fetch Lady Linette. Sophronia’s going to get all of us into trouble. Really, Sophronia, why must you always spoil everyone’s fun?”
Sophronia moved closer to Professor Braithwope.
“Ah, Miss Temminnick, how kind of you to join me. Would you care to dance?”
“No, thank you, Professor.” She struggled to guide his fantasy back to safety. “But perhaps you could fetch me a little punch? I’m parched.”
“Punch is it, whot?” The vampire tapped her lightly on the chin with his closed fist. “Mua ha ha! Aren’t I droll? Of course, my dear girl, of course. But would you like blood punch or brain punch?” He paused, shook his head, and then said in a small
voice, “Oh, wait, where… Miss Temminnick! What are you doing here? Whot whot?”
“You invited me, sir.”
“I did? Why would I do that? What are you doing at a Buckingham Palace supernatural reception? You aren’t even out yet. Plus, I’m tolerably certain you aren’t a supernatural. You aren’t high enough rank, either. Although I suppose we are both tolerably high up, whot.”
“You were going to fetch me some punch, sir?”
“Was I?” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “I don’t think Queen Victoria likes punch. In fact, I know she doesn’t. Would a glass of resin do? For the wood. A nice sealant. Necessary in weather like this. They’re collecting crystals, did you know? Pretty round ones, crystals to rule the world. Then there are mechanicals to think about. I don’t trust them, do you? No, exactly! Not with punch, at any rate.”
Sophronia remembered Westminster Hive. “Do any vampires trust mechanicals?”
“No. Nor do our brother werewolves. Why should they, whot? I mean to say, why should we? I am a vampire, am I not?”
“Yes, Professor, have been for hundreds of years.”
“That long? Miss Temminnick, you should come with me.” With that, Professor Braithwope picked Sophronia up bodily under one arm and carried her
from the squeak deck toward the pilot’s bubble, mincing along the plank.
The pilot’s bubble was the size of two very large bathtubs, one overturned on top of the other. It was supported from below by scaffolding but was otherwise far from the safety of the airship.
Professor Braithwope set her down on top of the bubble on a flat area big enough for two.
“Now what, sir?” Sophronia asked politely.
“Miss Temminnick, what are you doing on top of the pilot’s bubble?”
“You just put me here, sir.”
“Oh, yes. Now, would you like to dance?”
“If you insist. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of space.”
“It is quite the rout, whot? I’ve never known Buckingham to be so crowded. Usually, the queen is more selective. Why, I believe there are even clavigers present. I mean, drones are one thing, but clavigers are little more than prison wardens! Not to worry, little bite, I’ll do most of the work.” He began a gentle waltz on top of the bubble. He was inhumanly strong and unbelievably well balanced. Sophronia trusted in his ability to hold her up and hoped he wouldn’t suddenly forget about her, or think she was a hat and try to wear her instead of the flowerpot.
“Professor Braithwope, really!” came an autocratic voice from the squeak deck.
Agatha had returned with Lady Linette.
“Put Miss Temminnick down and come back here this instant. Shameful behavior, sir.”
The vampire looked like a crestfallen schoolboy and stopped waltzing. Mademoiselle Geraldine was the official headmistress, but everyone knew Lady Linette held the real power. Accordingly, the vampire let Sophronia go, turned, and dashed back along the beam.
Sophronia slipped on the bubble roof. Her feet went out from under her, and she slid over the side. Her petticoats bunched
and snagged on a loose nail, but not enough to do more than slow her fall.
Several of the watching young ladies screamed in horror.
Fortunately, Sophronia was accustomed to gallivanting about the hull of the ship. Her instincts kicked in. Instead of grappling for purchase, she reached one hand over to the opposite wrist. Pointing that wrist up, she ejected her hurlie. The hurlie looked a bit like a turtle one wore as a bracelet, but when it was deployed, two grappling hooks sprang out from underneath. The hurlie arced up and over the bubble, taking hold on the other side. It trailed a rope, so Sophronia fell only that distance before her left arm was fairly jerked out of its socket. She got her right hand around the rope to relieve the strain and found herself dangling like a fish at the end of a line.
“Miss Temminnick,” she heard Lady Linette cry, “report your condition.”
“Sophronia,” shrieked Dimity, “are you all right? Oh, dear, oh, dear.”
Shocked and winded, Sophronia needed a moment before she could answer either.
“Professor Braithwope, go after her!” Lady Linette ordered.
“Dear madam,” protested the vampire, “must protect the other young ladies from an equally dire fate.” With which there came the sound of splintering wood.
Sophronia twirled sedately at the end of her rope, eventually able to witness the vampire destroying his former dancing beam with his bare hands.
“Professor, stop that immediately!” instructed Lady Linette.
“Sophronia, are you well? Oh, please answer.” Dimity again.
Sophronia mustered enough breath to yell back, “I’m perfectly fine. However, it appears I am now stranded.” She couldn’t see any way to climb up to the deck or down along the bubble’s scaffolding to return to the ship. Fortunately, the pilot’s bubble remained in place, although it did sway a bit more without the added stabilization of the beam.
“Miss Temminnick,” said Lady Linette. “Where did you get that ingenious hook thing?”
“A friend,” replied Sophronia.
“Unregistered gadgetry is not allowed on school grounds, young lady. Although I find myself pleased you had this particular one to hand. Or to wrist, I should say.”
Sophronia, still spinning serenely through space, replied with, “I do apologize, Lady Linette, but might we discuss this later? Perhaps now we should solve my immediate predicament?”
“Of course, dear,” yelled her teacher, and then, distracted, “No, Professor Braithwope, not the soldier mechanicals. Bad vampire!”
“Lady Linette?” hollered Sophronia, feeling neglected.
“Yes, dear. If you could climb up to the underside of the pilot’s bubble? You’ll find a hatch to get inside just there. We’ll use capsule pipeline eggs to communicate with you once you’re safe. I’ll send Professor Lefoux. She’s better at these sorts of engineering difficulties.”
, wondered Sophronia,
is my dangling off the bubble an engineering difficulty?
She said, “Very good, thank you.”
She spun around enough to see back up to the squeak deck, in time to witness Lady Linette dash after the mincing Professor Braithwope. “Now, now, Professor, please!” He was still wearing his potted plant.