Home > Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1)(11)

Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1)(11)
Author: Gail Carriger

“India, infant, is going to take me most of our daytime repose,” was her mother’s assessment before they took to their beds before dawn.

“Oh, Mother!” It was nice to know her parents still enjoyed physical expressions of affection even at their advanced age, but also very much not nice to know.

The matter was thus settled, as far as Rue was concerned. She retired before her Paw returned home with the certain knowledge that plans would continue the next evening.

Rue came down after sunset in a dove-grey visiting dress trimmed with black velvet and white beadwork to find Dama and his drones preparing for a trip. The vampire, unlike his hive-bound fellows, often went out on the town, taking in the latest play or opera, occasionally calling upon his mortal acquaintances. Every such jaunt was an event, for everyone and everything in conjunction with the expedition must be aesthetically coordinated. Tonight, Rue’s appearance in the grey dress occasioned a line-up, two drones on either side, as they were to make up a party of six in the landau.

Winkle was instructed to go upstairs and change immediately as his yellow waistcoat did not go with Rue’s muted colour pallet. The drone returned in a sage vest, carrying Rue’s hat. Queen Ivy’s millinery influence dictated this accessory be a massive affair richly decorated in what looked like the flattened corpses of three seagulls. Rue thought it rather detracted from the beauty of her dress but Uncle Rabiffano insisted it was the very latest thing, and Uncle Rabiffano was never wrong about hats.

“Was Mother successful, do you think?” Rue asked Dama as he helped her into the coach. The horses sported grey tassels at their bits and the coachman a grey silk top hat.

“You are in some doubt? My Puggle of little faith.”

Rue smiled. “Of course. Silly me. It’s Mother. She always gets her way.”

“Mmm,” said Dama. “Except, of course, when you do.” He made room for his four drones to join them.

They made a very fetching picture, and Rue was delighted with the entire outing. She savoured the envious looks of the other ladies parading through Hyde Park. Rue was accompanied by five of the best-looking men in all of London, and was still young enough to enjoy the envy and not mind that it had little justifiable cause. For young women of burgeoning romantic hopes, these men could provide only decoration and conversation rather than amorous solace or entanglement. They were, as far as any lady was concerned, like the fake fruit on Baroness Tunstell’s favourite hat – entertaining, pretty, and apparently delicious but not actually useful in the event of starvation or even an attack of the nibbles. Rue, secure in this knowledge, was free to enjoy their company without expectations. Which she did, to the mutual entertainment of all.

Dama directed the driver through Hyde Park and out onto the Edgware Road towards Regent’s Park. Far less popular and less populated by the supernatural set, Regent’s Park was quiet at night. They drove along one side before turning in towards a dense plot of trees near Boating Lake. There, in the centre of a petite forest, sat an abandoned cricket pitch now occupied by a small but cheerful family of squirrels and Dama’s latest acquisition.

“Oh, Dama! She’s so beautiful.” Rue was embarrassed to find herself actually clutching both hands to her breast like the heroine of a romantic novel, for there in the middle of the pitch was moored the most amazing airship she had ever seen.

Rue was particularly fond of floating. She’d spent many a summer’s day up in Dama’s personal aircraft, Dandelion Fluff Upon a Spoon. He himself never used it of course, but kept it on the roof because it was the kind of possession that a man of means kept on his roof. Dama always made the appearance of doing what was proper and modern. He would never want to be thought old-fashioned – that was for other vampires. When Rue turned sixteen, the drones taught her to fly old Fluff. Since then, Rue had never missed the opportunity to bundle Prim up in hair muffs and goggles, pack a suitable picnic and take to the skies. Prim grew to enjoy it more than she would admit and had invested in a wardrobe to complement.

“I don’t want to be thought an outdoorsy sort of female,” she initially objected.

“Don’t be silly, Prim – everyone is taking to the skies these days. It’s not only the country set. It’s not like we’re riding horseback or something passé like that.”

“But, Rue, I’m all too often seen on wolfback. If I take to floating as well, people will say I’m – oh, I don’t know – athletic.”

“They will say no such thing. The height of your heels alone belies any suggestion of brawniness.”

That hadn’t helped – the mere mention of “brawn” nearly gave Prim hysterics. Through dint of cajoling and application of a very handsome drone to assist with lessons, Primrose eventually allowed herself aboard.

But this dirigible was utterly unlike such a poky little craft as old Fluff.

“Dama, she’s perfectly topping.”

“She is rather, isn’t she? I commissioned her several years ago, before some of the technology was even ready. Now she has all the very latest of everything, from navigation to habitation to mechanics to munitions. She’s lighter, better, faster and more deadly than anything, even Her Majesty’s floatforce. And, my darlingest of puggles, she is yours to command.”

Rue was moved to italics by the gesture. “Mine?”

“Indeed. I think you two will get along swimmingly. Or should I say floatingly?”

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