Lady Linette interrupted her reverie. “You chose the sewing scissors and one of the handkerchiefs from the next test. Why?”
“We have not completed knife training with Captain Niall, so I wasn’t confident in the letter opener, but I know I can work scissors to my advantage, and it is always good to have an extra handkerchief.”
“Why not the fan or the gloves?”
“White kid is impractical for a lady of covert activities. We have not had any fan training yet.”
“Oh, no, I’m not worthy.”
“Lastly, we had you send a coded message. Give it to me.”
Sophronia presented her with the bag of sweets tied with the bit of ribbon.
Lady Linette nodded her approval. “Ribbon used to indicate character of the sender. Nice touch, Miss Temminnick. You made use of the scissors from the previous selection.” She opened the bag and poured out the contents, including the one carefully broken sweet with the blood inside.
Lady Linette sniffed it and examined the stain. “Show me your hand.”
Sophronia removed one glove to display the finger she had pricked.
“You would have had to set up the code ahead of time. Nevertheless, an innovative method of getting a message across, and virtually untraceable, particularly as your recipient can eat the sweet.” Lady Linette looked once more down at the printed paper, then produced a stick of graphite and made some notes at the bottom.
Sophronia could feel her shoulders tensing and fought to keep them down. Were my choices correct? Do they want the expected route, or is it better if I did something out of the ordinary? Will they send me down? Sophronia was in ever greater fear that her sojourn at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s might come to a premature end. Only half a year ago she had resisted finishing school with every fiber of her being, until she realized Mademoiselle Geraldine’s offered no ordinary education. Now she dreaded the possibility of returning home to her former life.
Lady Linette said, “Everyone’s results are given together. You will receive your final marks in front of your peers.”
Sophronia’s heart sank. This explained the pale faces of the other girls—anticipated trauma. Agatha, in particular, hated public exposure.
“However, my initial assessment is that your capacities are suited to our institution. You are overly independent. I suggest focused study in social congregation and deportment. Groups, Miss Temminnick, are your weakness. Generally speaking, most lone intelligencers are men, not women. We ladies must learn to manipulate society.”
Sophronia could feel herself flushing. It was a fair assessment, but she did not like criticism. She knew she was good. Better than many of the other girls of her age-group. True, Sidheag could beat her in physical combat, Dimity and Preshea were more ladylike, and Monique was better at social graces, but Sophronia was the best at espionage. Nevertheless, she held her tongue and stared at her hands, forcing herself not to clasp them tightly. Lady Linette had only said that most lone intelligencers were male. Perhaps once in a while there was room for a female.
“Thank you, Miss Temminnick. You are dismissed.”
Sophronia bobbed a curtsy. It was just shy of being too high and too brief and thus rude. But before Lady Linette could comment, Sophronia swept from the room in a manner so grand that no teacher at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s would critique the action.
Sophronia found Dimity waiting in the hallway. Her friend’s face was white, and her lower lip trembled.
“Oh, Sophronia,” she cried. “Wasn’t that perfectly ghastly?”
She’s getting more and more dramatic, thought Sophronia. Overexposure to Mademoiselle Geraldine. “It certainly was odd.” Sophronia’s gift for understatement was almost as good as Dimity’s gift for overstatement.
“I poured the cold tea,” admitted Dimity. “Did you?”
“Oh, good, I thought you might. You’re usually right about these things.”
Dimity was crestfallen. “Oh, dear. Your assessment wasn’t wholly positive?”
“Not by half!”
Dimity brightened. “Really? Neither was mine. That’s good, then. Perhaps I won’t fail.”
“I thought you wanted to be sent down. I thought you wanted to be put into a real finishing school, to become an ordinary lady with a respectable parliamentary husband and no concerns beyond planning the next dinner party.”
“I did. I mean, I do. But Mummy would be so very disappointed, and I would have to leave you. And Sidheag. And Bumbersnoot.”
Sophronia could only agree with Dimity’s logic. “True.”
“Speaking of which, I must talk with you about this letter I received.” Dimity flashed a suspiciously embossed missive.
Sophronia grabbed for it.
Dimity was faster. “No, you can’t see it until we are with the others.”
Sophronia stuck her tongue out but waited obligingly until after luncheon. Due to the presence of Monique and Preshea in the drawing room, Agatha and Sidheag joined Sophronia and Dimity in their private room for a gossip.
Dimity produced the letter, both embarrassed and excited. “It’s from Lord Dingleproops!”
“Dimity,” objected Agatha, “should you be getting private correspondences from an unattached gentleman friend?”
“No, but this is the first. I didn’t write to him! And it can’t be that bad; our families are acquainted.”