Vieve’s eyebrows were raised almost into her dark hair. Bumbersnoot was, technically, illegal. Not only were students of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s not permitted pets, but unregistered mechanimals were forbidden throughout the British Empire.
“Lesson five five four,” said Sophronia. “Sometimes it is best to hide a suspicious item in plain sight.”
“How do you keep him from smoking or steaming unexpectedly?”
Sophronia completed her toilette and turned to look at Bumbersnoot. Vieve had fastened the sling about him using the various ribbons tied into bows. “He has to behave, or he gets brought back to the room. Usually, he’s pretty good. Speaking of which, I’d better get to class.”
“What do you have?”
“Lady Linette’s lesson on hive society.”
“Then there will be boys with you.”
“As opposed to? I thought they were joining us for all our classes.”
Vieve shook her head, green eyes twinkling. “Oh, no, no. Bunson’s doesn’t fraternize with supernaturals.”
“So they won’t be in lessons with Captain Niall or Professor Braithwope?”
Vieve nodded and handed her Bumbersnoot.
“Oh, I don’t know,” hedged Sophronia, “with boys running around. Is it wise to bring him?”
“He wants to go,” insisted Vieve.
Bumbersnoot flapped an ear.
“Very well. Remember, Bumbersnoot, don’t move.” Sophronia slung the mechanimal over her shoulder so that he dangled near her waist, looking for all the world like the oddest and most eccentric bag any lady of means had ever carried.
In class, Dimity, Sidheag, and Agatha noticed the addition of Bumbersnoot to Sophronia’s attire but said nothing. Sophronia only carried the mechanical when she thought she might need him. Although what defined needing such a ridiculous creature was anyone’s guess. They would assume this was simply another moment when Sophronia knew more than they and intended to show them up.
As if I would do that in front of boys! Sophronia plonked Bumbersnoot down ostentatiously among the other reticules.
Lady Linette’s etiquette class was augmented by four boys, including Lord Dingleproops and his dark-haired friend.
Lady Linette began. “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Today’s class is entitled “Faking It with Fangs.” We will go over proper introductions within a hive environment. Please pair off.”
With six girls, Sophronia and Agatha were left out of the first round. Monique made straight for Lord Dingleproops, cutting Dimity off. Preshea chose the dark-haired boy. They made a fetching pair, of a kind in coloring, pleasing proportions, and sulky temperament. Yet, despite Preshea’s uncontested loveliness, the dark-haired boy kept glancing at Sophronia. Which, while complimentary, also gave her an undeniable feeling of smugness. It wasn’t often a boy preferred her over Preshea.
Lady Linette continued, “Queens outrank all other vampires, despite whatever landed title they might hold. Always go to the queen first in any social situation and allow one of her hive-bound vampires to introduce you. After the queen come her hive members, then any roves who may be present. All of these will be men, some landed. Drones—humans indentured to hive or rove—are classed as household staff, with a few exceptions.”
One of the boys said, snidely, “Are you purposefully leaving out the fact that drones are also the vampires’ primary food source?”
Lady Linette snapped, “One doesn’t discuss such utilitarian things!
For today’s practice, the gentlemen will pretend to be hive vampires. Begin!”
Sophronia and Agatha introduced themselves to each other. Agatha was as shy and as nervous as if Sophronia were a real vampire. The mere presence of four young men among them had her aflutter. Poor Agatha was generally overset by anything new, from the advent of a birthday scarf—How to wear it? What to match it with?—to boys wandering willy-nilly into classes.
“So unpredictable,” Agatha whispered.
The scarf, wondered Sophronia, or the boys?
Conversation was allowed to continue for some ten minutes while Lady Linette mingled and made adjustments—to stance, to subject matter, to flirting, to lack of flirting, to eyelash use. She corrected both girls and boys. Sophronia realized, for the first time, that vampires had just as many rules to follow as women in society. Possibly more.
“Pardon me, Lady Linette?”
“Yes, Miss Temminnick?”
“Can rove vampires safely visit a hive? I thought they had to stay in their own territory.”
“Roves can visit for short lengths of time. Think logically, Miss Temminnick. Roves must have an alliance with a vampire queen because only a queen can breed new vampires. Since roves have drones, and drones work for the right to try to become a vampire, they must maintain an alliance with a queen. In exchange for drone metamorphosis, roves perform duties for the queen that the males of her hive cannot. Roves, for example, have much longer tethers and greater mobility.”
Sophronia decided tether length was something to bother Professor Braithwope about. She found the idea of vampire territories intriguing, but there was very little written on the subject. Since vampires perceived tethers as a weakness, this was probably by design. They did love controlling information.
Lady Linette clapped her hands. “Rotate, please. Lady Kingair and Miss Plumleigh-Teignmott, you pair out for this round.”
Preshea made her way to Lord Dingleproops. The young man was clearly charmed by the girl’s precise petty prettiness. Dimity looked disgruntled—she had her embossed missive clutched in one hand and clearly wished to ask Lord Dingleproops about it.