Another thrilled gasp met this. Mademoiselle Geraldine narrowed her eyes at Lady Linette, as though this were all her idea, and continued, “Now, don’t you desire to know why we are headed into London?”
Truth be told, most of the girls had entirely forgotten that there need be a reason. Sophronia was interested to hear what excuse had been given to Mademoiselle Geraldine. Almost as interested as she was in the truth behind their trip. She turned her gaze away from the boys, now lined up at the front of the room. The abominable dark-haired one was staring at her. So rude.
“Henri Giffard is scheduled to float, from France, in the very first transcontinental dirigible!”
This was of little consequence. After all, they spent all day every day floating about in an overlarge dirigible. Sophronia waited to be impressed.
“And he has said he will do it in under an hour using aether currents.”
This was met with pure shock. Even some of the boys looked surprised.
Float inside the aetherosphere? Inside the currents that swirled above the air itself? Unheard of!
“Those with the scientific know-how”—Mademoiselle Geraldine gestured at Professors Shrimpdittle and Lefoux—“tell me that he is most likely to succeed due to some exciting new valve technology. It is deemed that such a monumental historical occurrence is worth uprooting our entire establishment to witness in person.”
Sophronia was caught up in the metaphor of uprooting a floating school.
“And now, if you gentlemen will take a seat,” the headmistress continued, gesturing to an unoccupied table laid with a damask tablecloth and fine china, “we can get on to breakfast at last.”
FLIRTING WITH CONSPIRACIES
The first aether-borne dirigible flight, and we get to witness it! Do you realize, if Giffard’s calculations are correct, this could halve float times? Can you believe it? We could get all the way to Scotland in four days! I wonder how he is handling aether-current monitoring. Can you imagine being that high up?”
Sophronia was not as impressed as Vieve thought she should be. “It is still faster by sleeper train.”
“Yes, but this is floating. Floating! Using aether currents! The possibilities are endless. It’s so exciting!” Vieve bounced up and down on Sophronia’s bed.
The young inventor had stopped by for a visit after breakfast. Sophronia had no idea where the scamp ate, but clearly it was within hearing distance of the assembly.
“As you’re here, do you think you could help me dress?” she asked.
“You’re dressed already,” protested Vieve.
“In something nicer?”
“Not you, too!”
“Well, everyone is putting on their best because of the visitors. I don’t want to be known as that girl in the carriage dress.”
Vieve sighed. “Oh, very well.” The ten-year-old eschewed female clothing herself, but she had the French eye for apparel on others, and opinions to go with it. She mooched over to Sophronia’s wardrobe and selected a dark blue-and-green plaid, two seasons old, with a narrow skirt.
“This one,” she pronounced with all the authority of youth.
“It complements your eyes.”
“If you say so.”
“With the straw shepherdess bonnet.” Vieve was always very assured on the subject of hats. Not to be trifled with.
“Well, you’ll have to help me put it on. Dimity still isn’t speaking to me.”
“More fool, her. You know about what’s going.”
“Not now; everyone is as up on things as I.” This irritated Sophronia.
Vieve dimpled. “Ah, but you’ll never guess what I heard.”
Sophronia brightened. “Oh?”
“One of the teachers is required in London.”
Sophronia was struck, yet again, by how much older Vieve always sounded and acted. One would never have guessed from her speech that she was ten. From her actions, occasionally, yes. She did bounce.
“Which one? Your aunt?”
“Now, now, Sophronia, I told you something interesting, didn’t I? I can’t do all the work.” The girl got distracted. “What is Bumbersnoot up to?”
Bumbersnoot had snuffled over to one side of the room and latched onto a froufrou that had fallen into the corner by the bed. He was dragging it out into the center of the floor and not swallowing it into his tiny boiler.
Sophronia looked at her pet. “He wants to come along.”
Sophronia indicated the floof in Bumbersnoot’s mouth with her head. Her hands were busy pinning on the shepherdess hat.
Vieve crouched down and gently extracted the bit of cloth from the metal dog’s mouth. It turned out to be a complex sort of sling, heavily decorated with lace, ruffles, and tassels. Vieve, being mechanically minded, realized it was designed for Bumbersnoot to wear. It covered most of the mechanimal and made him look like a reticule—if a reticule were to be designed with a metal dog head. If anyone asked, Sophronia was prone to explaining her handbag was the latest fashion out of Italy, and she couldn’t fathom how a person of taste didn’t also own one.
“Dimity and I made it for him after Petunia’s ball. The idea worked so well there. Everyone thought he was some fancy new accessory. This way I can take him to classes with me. He likes to get out and about on occasion, don’t you, Bumbersnoot?”