A collective gasp met this statement. The girls stopped reaching for crumpets and jam and looked up expectantly.
Sophronia sat back in her seat and looked at Monique out of the corner of her eye. Monique’s genuine surprise suggested she hadn’t known. Monique supposedly had an advocate among the teachers, and yet she hadn’t been told? The girl’s expression changed from shock to annoyance. Oh, ho, she thinks she should have been told. Very interesting.
“You knew.” Dimity was giving Sophronia an exasperated look.
Well, at least she’s talking to me. Sophronia nodded.
“Of course she knew! She’s the best, remember? Better than any of us,” Preshea interfered.
Dimity looked away, flushing.
“We are going to…” Mademoiselle Geraldine made an expansive gesture and left a pregnant pause, her stage training in action. “… London!”
Squeals of delight met that. Every girl wanted to go to London, even the ones who had been already. The shopping alone!
Sophronia’s dining table erupted into hushed exclamations.
“Think of it, town in March!”
“Directly before the Season. All the new gloves will be in!”
“I must write to Mummy and Daddy immediately to ask for an increase in my allowance.”
“Will there be balls? Oh, I do hope there will be balls!”
“There must be balls.”
Sophronia nodded to herself. That explained all the extra fuel. But their school never left the moor. The fact that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s was actually a massive airship was supposed to be secret. No one would believe it was a real finishing school if they knew it bobbed about shamelessly midair. Sophronia’s mind jumped to the problem of staying covert. Can we avoid populated areas all the way to London? She ought to be excited. She’d rarely had an opportunity to visit the capital. But what fun could she have in London if all her girlfriends were angry at her? It was hardly as though she and Soap could go tripping about Regent Street, cooing over lace tucks.
Mademoiselle Geraldine called for silence. It took awhile. “Now, now, ladies. Ladies! There will be plenty of time to talk among yourselves later. It will take us four days to get there. Classes will, of course, continue.” The headmistress took a deep breath, straining her stays alarmingly. “And that is not all!”
The girls quieted in anticipation of more delicious news.
“We will be joined by company on this excursion.” Mademoiselle Geraldine waved at the back of the room. The girls turned in their seats.
The dining hall doors opened and in walked… boys.
Mademoiselle Geraldine’s young ladies did not squeal at this, although it was certainly an even more squeal-worthy moment. Their training took over, and not a peep was to be heard. But there was the faint sucking hiss of multiple indrawn breaths, like helium escaping the big balloons.
Again, Dimity turned to Sophronia, as if she could not help herself. “Did you know about this?”
“Dimity!” reprimanded Preshea.
Sophronia had not known, but she wasn’t about to tell Dimity that. She merely tightened her lips.
There were some ten young men in all and one teacher. The teacher was a boyish-faced blond gentleman, wearing a seriously scholarly expression.
Sophronia recognized a few of the boys. Dimity’s younger brother, Pillover, gave their table a glum nod from under the brim of his oversized bowler. There was the infamous Lord Dingleproops who, outrageously, tipped his hat at them. Dimity blushed and then stuck her nose in the air. Next to Lord Dingleproops walked a pale, dark-haired boy wearing a little kohl about his eyes and possessing a certain sullen restlessness. Sophronia and he had once danced together but had never been properly introduced. She’d had to cut him unkindly at the time, abandoning him alone in the middle of a dance. There had been prototypes and cheese pies to deal with, but he would probably never forgive her.
He caught her staring and held her gaze in a forward manner. Then he lowered long eyelashes, ridiculously long for boy, and gave her a small smile.
I know that trick. We learned it our first week here. Sophronia lowered her own lashes at him and glared. Some traitorous part of her was thinking, At least he doesn’t resent me for that dance.
The boy’s smile became genuine, and he gave her a little nod.
“Great,” muttered Sophronia. “We got us Pistons on board.”
“What’s wrong with Pistons, Miss Know-It-All?” Monique asked, driven to break her silence. “They come from some of the finest families in England.”
“And some of the wealthiest,” added Preshea, emphasizing the t at the end of the word like a bullet.
Agatha said to Dimity, “Imagine Lord Dingleproops tilting his hat at you! After what he did!”
Monique narrowed in on this. “What did he do?”
Dimity said, “Ask Sophronia, why don’t you?”
“Oh, it can’t be that important.”
Mademoiselle Geraldine interrupted further discussion. “Please welcome Mr. Algonquin Shrimpdittle and a selection of the top-ranked students from Bunson and Lacroix’s Boys’ Polytechnique. They will be joining us for the journey to London. I’m convinced you will make them welcome. Don’t fuss; you will get the opportunity to socialize after tea.”
The silence that met that remark practically wobbled with excitement, like aspic jelly.
“The young gentlemen will be joining you for some of your lessons. I expect you all to behave and conduct yourselves like the ladies of qualit-tay I know you are!”