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SESSION 1: BEWARE VAMPIRES WEARING FLOWERPOTS
“Funambulist,” said Sophronia Temminnick, quite suddenly.
“Sophronia, such language!” Dimity Plumleigh-Teignmott reprimanded.
“Pardon?” said Agatha Woosmoss.
Sidheag Maccon, the final member of Sophronia’s group, muttered, “Bless you.”
“I wasn’t sneezing, nor being indelicate, thank you all very much. I was thinking out loud.”
“As if thinking out loud weren’t decidedly indelicate.” Dimity was not to be swayed out of disapproval when she felt it might exercise her creativity.
“Funambulist. Do you think that’s what Professor Braithwope was, you know, professionally, before he became a vampire? A tightrope walker in a carnival?”
“I suppose it’s possible,” said Dimity, mollified.
With which, the four girls all returned to staring over the railing of the squeak deck. They were, theoretically, in class with some ten fellow students and Professor Braithwope. It was their vampire teacher’s custom of late to administer decidedly oddball lessons. Which is to say, more oddball than an ordinary lesson with a vampire in a floating dirigible espionage school.
It was a drizzly January evening, 1853, the sun recently set, and Professor Braithwope was currently twirling back and forth along the thin plank that stretched from the forward-most squeak deck’s railing to the pilot’s bubble. He was leagues up in the air.
Sophronia had watched the professor run that particular plank with deadly grace the very first day she came aboard Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. She’d never anticipated watching him dance along it. Admittedly, he danced with no less grace than he ran, performing some sedate quadrille with an imaginary partner. However, he was doing so while balancing a flowerpot on his head, one that contained Sister Mattie’s prize foxglove. Before his troubles, Professor Braithwope would never leave his room without a top hat occupying that sacred spot on his glossy brown coiffure. But for months his behavior had become increasingly erratic; witness the fact that he also wore an old-fashioned black satin cape with a high collar and scarlet lining. His fangs were extended, causing him to lisp slightly, and he punctuated his quadrille with a maniacal laugh that, if inscribed for posterity, might have been written as “Mua ha ha.”
“Should one of us go after him?” Sophronia worried that he would fall to his doom. Plummeting to the moor would snap his tether to the dirigible, and it was tether-snap that had caused his madness in the first place.
“Why?” Preshea turned to her. “Are you some kind of tightrope walker yourself?”
Since the Dratted Monique had matriculated on to a new life as drone to Westminster vampire hive, Miss Preshea Buss had taken over all residual nastiness. She netted herself a group of stylish associates from among the new debuts, too young to know better.
Sophronia ignored Preshea and looked at Dimity. “What do you think?”
Professor Braithwope pirouetted. Far below, the wet grasses and prickly gorse slid by, partly visible through the mist.
“Perhaps someone should go for matron?” suggested Dimity.
“Or Lady Linette?” said Agatha.
“Is it all that different from any of our other lessons with the idiot?” asked Preshea. She and the rest of the class enjoyed the fact that their hours spent with Professor Braithwope had turned into a free-for-all with little guidance or actual work.
“He’s not usually this bad.” Sophronia didn’t wish to be thought a goody-goody, especially not at a school of espionage, but she wanted their old mercurial professor back: the one who taught them to manipulate vampire politics; to use fashion to confuse and kill; to interact with government, high society, and curling tongs. This new vampire was bonkers, in a flowerpot-wearing way, and not at all useful. She understood why the school kept him on. Since he was tethered here, he must stay on board and couldn’t be retired groundside. So far, he didn’t seem dangerous to anyone but himself, but it was difficult to forget that he was a crazy immortal and they all were, in the end, food.
Sophronia’s green eyes narrowed. Perhaps he was being used as a new kind of lesson: how to deal with a risky vampire in a powerful position.
Professor Braithwope whirled to face the sea of staring faces: a dozen bright, pretty young ladies, confused, amused, and concerned by his quadrille. “Ah, class! There you are, whot. Now remember, no matter how high, there is always time for frivolity or politics, whot?”
Sophronia perked up. Were they about to learn something?
“Speech,” encouraged Preshea.
“We are all Queen Victoria’s subjects, vampire or werewolf. We owe her allegiance. Only in England do we have a voice, a vote, and a snack. We help build the Empire, we keep our noble island strong.”
Sophronia frowned. This was not new information. This was simply the progressive party stance.
“We have been members since King Henry’s day. Or should I say night? My, but he was fat. And no pickle should relish that sandwich!” He finished there, arms wide.
The young ladies all clapped politely.
“Now, who would like to dance? One of you must be willing to trip the light mahogany? Miss Temminnick? You would not deny me a dance, whot?”
Sophronia adjusted her skirts. This might be the only way to get him back onto the squeak deck.
“Now, Sophronia,” warned Dimity, “don’t do anything hasty.” She was one of the few who knew that Sophronia felt guilty over their teacher’s insane condition.