Lady Linette tutted as she brushed ink spatter off her well-powdered cheek with a handkerchief. “Where’s the new valve gone?”
“What valve?” Sophronia blinked wide, confused eyes at her.
Lady Linette gave her a long look. “Probably rolled free during the explosion. I told Professor Lefoux it wasn’t tight enough in the cradle. And I said it wouldn’t work properly regardless.” Sophronia didn’t say anything. “I wish we could have tested it on a less valuable machine. Never mind, we’ve got your results.” Lady Linette waved the oddgob’s printed paper.
Sophronia stood and innocently offered her teacher the additional handkerchief she’d acquired during the test. Lady Linette took it absently, then paused, pondering it. She did not apply it to the remains of the ink on her face, instead handing it back with a little smile.
“Oh, very good, Miss Temminnick. Very good indeed!” She examined the printed sheet. Closely.
“Let us begin your review. The painting, time period?”
“Eighteen fourteen, by attire,” said Sophronia. “Give or take a year. Evening party.”
“Blue on the central subject, green and cream on those in the background.”
“Bonnet style and decoration?”
Trick question! “None of the ladies were wearing hats. The subject had cornflowers in her hair. As I said, it was an evening party.”
Lady Linette arched an eyebrow over her spectacles. “And have you any additional thoughts?”
Sophronia straightened. “A great many.”
“About the painting, Miss Temminnick. Don’t be coy.”
Sophronia forbore mentioning that Lady Linette had said only yesterday that there was always time for coyness in young ladies of quality. “The painting was well executed, but the artist was probably poor.”
Lady Linette looked nonplussed. “Why do you say that?”
“No expensive pigments, like red and gold, were used. Either that, or the painter feared toxicity. He did not sign it. There were approximately twelve people in the image.” Sophronia paused delicately for effect. “And one cat. The wallpaper was striped, and the garden through the window had a Roman feel.”
Lady Linette nodded, dislodging her spectacles. She reseated them on her nose with a sniff of annoyance. Lady Linette always dressed younger than she was. Spectacles, under such circumstances, might be considered a fate worse than knitwear.
“Moving on to the tea service, Miss Temminnick. The tea was cold. Why did you still serve it?”
Sophronia nibbled her lip. It was another habit her teachers were trying to eliminate. “If you must draw attention to the lips, a small lick is superior. It is too academic to nibble” was Lady Linette’s customary admonishment. “It’s all very well to be an intellectual, but one shouldn’t let others see. That’s embarrassing” was Mademoiselle Geraldine’s opinion.
Sophronia stopped nibbling. “I did consider dumping it entirely, but I thought the instructions indicated I was to be evaluated on the act of serving. Had there been other people present, I would have sent it back.”
“Milk first, the lower-class way?”
“But necessary if the cups were lined with an acid-based poison. The milk would curdle or discolor. Also, one of the cups smelled of lavender.”
Lady Linette said, unguardedly, “It did?”
“Yes. I don’t know of any poisons with that smell, but it might be used to cover over another scent or, of course, it might have been your cup, Lady Linette.”
“You always smell of lavender.”
“The tea cakes?”
“One was fake. Of the other two, both smelled of bitter almond—one because it was an almond cake, I believe. The other was powdered in cyanide.” Sophronia had been saddened by the cyanide lesson with Sister Mattie. For the rest of her life—unless she learned to bake—almond cake was right out. There was no surefire way to guarantee lack of cyanide in any almond-smelling confection.
“Moving on to the ribbons.”
Sophronia explained, “I selected the one that matched my outfit and tied it in a Bunson’s knot.”
“There’s a piece missing.”
Sophronia grinned. “I must beg your patience in that matter, my lady.”
Her teacher was taken aback but continued. “Why the Bunson’s knot?”
Sophronia parroted a recent article she’d translated from the Parisian fashion papers. Vieve, of all people, had given it to her. Vieve might dress like a newspaper boy, but she took an interest in current styles, particularly hats. This article had delighted the young girl. “It has a pleasing military feel. I read recently that the juxtaposition and power of masculine elements can inspire confidence in the wearer, and the accompanying aura of authority is never a bad thing,” Sophronia paraphrased.
Lady Linette looked impressed. This was not part of any lesson. “And do you feel more confident and authoritative, Miss Temminnick?”
Sophronia touched the ribbon. “Actually, I do.”
Lady Linette nodded. “It would be a good style for you to pursue. I suggest you encourage your mother to have at least one new dress made up with military detailing.” She gave Sophronia a pitying look.
Sophronia blushed. She and Dimity did their best to make over her dresses. But her older ones had such a narrow silhouette, and with skirts getting progressively wider, there wasn’t much they could do. It was impossible to add volume to a dress. And this was a finishing school—everyone noticed such things. Still, if Lady Linette thought more masculine fashions might suit her, perhaps gold tassels and epaulets were in order. Dimity would be over the moon.