Sophronia persisted. “Have you ever visited Vauxhall before?”
“Indeed, but I find this a whole new kind of garden experience, now that I have met you.”
Sophronia stepped away from the impossible boy with a glare. “Lady Linette, Lord Mersey is not speaking by the rules. Either for vampires or regular gentlemen.”
“Well, Miss Temminnick, you are using only standard niceties. Examine your subject and tailor your remarks to his taste.”
Given permission, Sophronia took in Felix Golborne, Viscount Mersey, from head to toe. “The mark is of average height and slender build. He is a man of means, but not overly interested in fashion. His hair is a little long. The mark has a slightly sullen expression denoting chronic ennui. Peculiarities include kohl about the eyes, fake gears sewn to the waistcoat, and a top hat with a brass ribbon.” She pointed to the hat where it sat atop an articulated bronze hat rack. “In short, an average hive-bound toff with a few eccentricities.”
Felix looked remarkably nonplussed under this string of observations. “You wound me.”
Lady Linette was delighted. “Note, however, the expense of the haircut? It takes a great deal of money to acquire a look of not having spent any at all. The precise fit and cut of the waistcoat? That is next season’s color. We have here a vampire of more than considerable means. He probably has not only hive backing but his own as well. His eccentricities might lead you to direct the conversation accordingly. Kohl is sourced where?”
Sophronia did not know; cosmetics were not her strong point.
Preshea spoke up. “Oh, me, me!”
“Yes, Miss Buss?”
“Egypt, my lady.”
“Very good, Miss Buss.” Lady Linette turned back to Sophronia. “What might you gather from that?”
“He has business concerns overseas, is possibly a collector of antiquities, or thinks his eyes are so pretty they must be exaggerated, which, given the length of his eyelashes, seems a waste of kohl.”
Lord Dingleproops let out a guffaw. “Got you there, Felix!”
Lady Linette finally realized Sophronia’s antics had distracted the entire class. “Ladies and gentlemen, please return to your own encounters! Sophronia, proceed with your discourse, applying our new information.”
Sophronia sighed and faced Felix. “My lord, are you interested in ancient Egypt?”
“I’m interested in the fact that you noticed the length of my eyelashes.”
Sophronia gritted her teeth. “Does your hive have historic ties to exotic lands?”
Felix’s intense focus on Sophronia was momentarily distracted by the mantelpiece behind her. “Speaking of exotic, your reticule seems to have moved of its own accord.”
Felix was not the only one to have noticed. One of Lady Linette’s cats was a full fluff ball of bristling offense, staring up at Bumbersnoot.
Sophronia hurried over. In the guise of retrieving her shawl, she gave Bumbersnoot an impressive whispered lecture on sitting still. The mechanimal crouched down with a small steam puff of slowing gears. The cat took further offense and hid under a sofa.
“What, for aether’s sake, is wrong with Artemisia?” asked Lady Linette, distracted by her cat’s behavior.
Felix followed Sophronia and leaned in to whisper, “Italian design, did you say? I must see about getting my mother one. Then again, if all the best households have one, she may already be blessed.”
Luckily, shortly after that, they were required to switch partners. Then the class got thoroughly distracted by the spectacle of Dimity Plumleigh-Teignmott, normally a placid young lady, positively bristling at a surprised Lord Dingleproops. Their vampire-meets-maiden conversation was full of hissed undercurrents. Sophronia observed that when Dimity flashed her letter at the young man, he shook his head violently, not understanding her ire. He was either a very good actor or had no involvement in the fiasco on the squeak deck. Sophronia was relieved that she had interfered and set the airdinghy falling. But if Lord Dingleproops wasn’t involved, who was? The flywaymen? The Picklemen? How did they get hold of the stationery? And the question still remained, why Dimity?
Sophronia tried to approach her friend after class with her concerns. “Dimity, about that letter…”
Dimity, practically in tears, only brushed by and scuttled off as fast as she could, trailing a worried-looking Agatha and Sidheag in her wake.
Felix, thought Sophronia as she made ready for supper that evening, is liable to be a problem. Despite all due attention to deportment, she could not help thinking of him as Felix, even while addressing him as Lord Mersey. They shared several lessons—including tea and delusions with Mademoiselle Geraldine and portion allotment, puddings, and preemptive poisonings with Sister Mattie. He would keep flirting, despite more tempting prospects like Monique and Preshea, who practically hurled themselves in his direction. I wonder if I should warn him about Preshea. She does so desperately want to murder her first husband. Sophronia had no idea why Felix was so intent upon her. She had not yet received lessons in seduction, or she might have understood the appeal of sharp confidence, a topping figure, and green eyes. All Sophronia’s intellect was directed at something other than attracting male companionship. These things combined to make her particularly appealing to gentlemen. Soap could have told her that.
The boys were permitted to take supper with the girls, distributed among the tables. Lord Mersey, Lord Dingleproops, and Mr. Plumleigh-Teignmott sat with Sophronia’s group because they were the youngest of the gentlemen visitors. Pillover was the youngest of all, at thirteen, and was distressed at having been singled out for special treatment.