Sophronia looked around. “Have you taken on extra coal, too?”
“I didn’t feel us go low to meet the supply train.”
“Early yesterday morning, miss.”
Vieve added, “They brought it in from Bristol special.”
Sophronia said, “I take it you’re thinking what I’m thinking.”
“Someone plans to take this ship on a very long trip.” Soap pulled out a wooden pipe, lit it up with a wick from a nearby boiler, and puffed.
Sophronia wrinkled her nose. Revolting habit. She schooled her expression when he looked at her, but he must have caught her distaste.
He took the pipe out of his mouth, looked at it as though it had done something offensive, and then tapped it out into a coal heap and tucked it away.
And he thinks he’s not a gentleman! Sophronia smiled—a wide grin with no artifice to it.
Soap looked a little overwhelmed by the power of her approval. Sophronia was, as yet, unaware of the effect of her smile on boys.
Vieve watched this back-and-forth with interested green eyes.
Sophronia continued their conversation. “Leaving the moor, do you think?
Soap nodded. “A certain.”
“What else do you know?” Sophronia asked.
Soap shook his head. “Simply that, miss. I have tried, but them powers upstairs are keeping this one close.”
They both looked to the ten-year-old girl dressed as a boy. Vieve had crouched down to play with Bumbersnoot. She shrugged. “You got more than me. No one’s talked in my hearing.”
“Lady Linette! She didn’t give us our assessments. Perhaps she was called away to deal with this?” Sophronia mused.
“Which direction are we headed now, Soap?” Vieve asked.
Soap wandered over to a hatch in the floor of one corner of the massive room and stuck his head out of it. A few minutes later he returned. Soap always looked as though he didn’t quite have control of his limbs, like a goat. But like a goat, he was sure-footed and powerful, despite appearances.
“Toward Swiffle-on-Exe, I’m thinking.”
Sophronia was impressed. This was a skill she hadn’t known Soap possessed. One stretch of heath looked much the same as another to her.
“Boilers will be needing water?” suggested Vieve. “For the journey?” Swiffle-on-Exe was a riverside town.
“I wonder if Bunson’s has a mission for us?” offered Sophronia. Bunson and Lacroix’s Boys’ Polytechnique was near Swiffle-on-Exe and the primary reason people visited the town.
“After Monique bungled the prototype retrieval? I doubt it,” muttered Vieve. “Things haven’t been roses between the schools since. Bunson’s won’t forgive Geraldine’s for nearly losing the only working device.”
Sophronia’s instincts took over. “How do you know that?”
“My aunt used to communicate regularly with a professor there.”
“When we infiltrated Bunson’s last year, you used his name to get us past the porter.”
“You remember?” Vieve was impressed.
“It’s what I do.”
“Highest marks ever, right.” Vieve gave Sophronia a suspicious look. “Did you hold back during that test?”
Sophronia avoided her question by asking one in reply. “Did you know about the oddgob?”
“Oh.” Sophronia was disappointed. “And I took such careful mental notes for you. Did you know it had a component part that looked a great deal like the prototype?”
Vieve frowned. “Not possible. Why would the oddgob need a crystalline valve frequensor? That valve is for wireless communication, nothing to do with oddgobbery.”
Sophronia shrugged and fished the item in question out of her reticule. She handed it to Vieve, experiencing some relief at no longer having it on her person. “Here, I stole it for you. Why don’t you tell me what it’s for.”
“Aw, Sophronia, how thoughtful. You brought me a present!” Vieve examined the mini-prototype for a moment. Soap and Sophronia watched her for signs of intrigue. “Amazing, they let it fall into your hands when they made such a fuss over it only last year.”
Sophronia nodded. “Unless it’s no longer a prototype and already in production and distribution. Technology does move awful fast these days.”
Vieve dimpled again. “I know, isn’t it grand?” She pocketed the valve, only then realizing Sophronia had neatly avoided her earlier question. “So, did you hold back during that test?”
“Maybe a little,” Sophronia admitted.
Soap grinned. “That’s my girl.”
Sophronia glared at him. He was getting familiar.
“You are, miss.” He continued to grin.
“I’m my own girl, thank you very much.”
“Sometimes. Sometimes you’re mine, or Miss Dimity’s, or even Vieve’s.”
Vieve was too young to follow this line of reasoning, but she was bound to agree with Soap if the conversation nettled Sophronia.
This one certainly did. In fact, Sophronia was finding it most flustering. She did not like being flustered, and she did not like that it was Soap doing the flustering. She wasn’t quite sure what this meant, so she resorted to orders. “Stop it, Soap.”
“For now, miss. You tell me when you want this conversation to continue.”