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Sidheag and Agatha were taken off probation. No explanation was given, and Sophronia was left with the distinct sensation that they had been less circumspect about the monitoring of Monique then they originally thought. She suspected that Monique’s working for Westminster and the potentate’s blatant refusal to believe that the hive was involved was considered embarrassing by the school. Sister Mattie probably argued in their favor. Sophronia also understood what lesson she was to have learned from her ostracism. My strength as an intelligencer is in my friends. But she wasn’t certain whether she was to take that as a need for more independence or less.
She tried several times to visit Professor Braithwope but was forbidden entry. “Enough” was Professor Lefoux’s curt comment the fifth time. Sophronia tried to pass along a home-made card and even snuck onto Sister Mattie’s balcony to pick him a bunch of foxgloves, but no contact was allowed. She wasn’t certain if this was because he was now insane and dangerous to her or if the teachers had some inkling of her involvement with Shrimpdittle and figured she was dangerous to him. Lessons were dull without his inquisitive mustache. She developed an odd sensation behind her eyeballs, like the press of tears, but no tears came. The burn of guilt, she supposed. Something new and unpleasant to learn to live with. She plucked at her meals and began to think much longer and harder about consequences as well as actions.
Genevieve Lefoux disappeared from Mademoiselle Geraldine’s before the airship reached Dartmoor. Professor Lefoux was entirely untroubled by her niece’s absence and began to receive letters, a few months later, from a previously unheard of nephew, Gaspar Lefoux, who had been accepted into Bunson’s.
“Distant relation, you know. I had no idea he had evil-genius ambitions. Of course, I am delighted he has found himself a place. Who wouldn’t be?” Sophronia overheard her say to Sister Mattie.
“Well, Bunson’s is in bed with the Picklemen,” protested the nun. “Even more so now. They won the contract to produce the crystalline guidance valves, did you hear? The potentate is introducing legislation in opposition, but it won’t pass.”
“That is a worry. Well, my nephew knows his own mind. He’ll keep to the proper order.”
“You’d better be careful, or the octopus will have him,” replied Sister Mattie.
Sophronia wondered if Vieve might be doing a little spying for her aunt while she acquired an education. It’d be a good thing, a scout at Bunson’s. Her musings were interrupted.
“Sophronia, get a move on, please. We’re late for breakfast!”
“Oh, yes, Dimity, of course.”
“Post is in, did you hear?” Dimity bustled up alongside her and took her arm.
They rounded the corner to the great dining hall. Everything was back to normal; the girls were all seated at their various tables, looking neat and tidy and ready for lessons. London and all its charms were now behind them.
Sophronia and Dimity made their way to their table. Like Monique, several of the older girls had been left behind in London, off to find husbands. Their beaux were carefully selected, their instructions clear, and their new lives as intelligencers begun. And, two new debuts sat wide-eyed at their dining table, staring with awe at Preshea. Preshea who, like some evil monster of Greek mythology, had sprung fully formed into Monique’s shoes. Literally, as she’d been gifted with the older girl’s peach kid boots.
Dimity took her customary seat. “Oh, look, Sophronia, you’ve got letters. How exciting! Who from?”
Sophronia opened the first one. “Goodness gracious, Felix Mersey.”
“Oh, what does he say? Is it a declaration?”
Sophronia considered the brief but pleasant paragraph. “No. Compliments and excessively charming inquiries. But blessedly there’s no mention of me dressing as a dandy.”
“A courting letter! How exciting.”
“Mmm. You know, I think he thinks I favor the Picklemen now. Vampires, after all, kidnapped you.”
“Well, don’t we? It wasn’t exactly comfortable for me.” Dimity had a gift for understatement. “And they did kill that poor girl.” She shuddered with remembered horror.
Sophronia put a hand on her friend’s arm for comfort. “I’m more in favor than I was, but why did the hive risk so much to stop them? There’s something more afoot.”
“Will you ever stop seeing conspiracies?”
“When others stop concocting them, I suppose.”
Dimity sighed. “So it goes. Now, what’s in the other letter?”
This one was even shorter than the first, a few flowery lines and an elegant signature. “Lord Akeldama pays his respects. Well, gracious me.”
Dimity was confused. “Who’s he? Is he also courting you?”
“In a way, I think he may be.” Sophronia gave the letter to Bumbersnoot to burn. Safer that way.