Home > Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1)(5)

Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1)(5)
Author: Gail Carriger

“Spiffing! What a whiz. Now, hail a hack, would you, please, Prim?” Rue tucked the shawl about her as neatly as possible and reseated the wreath about her head. It was all hopeless – her hair was loose, her feet bare – but with no other options, Rue found it best to make an effort to ensure one’s appearance seemed intentional.

Prim handed over the dancing slippers.

Rue put them on, trying not to feel the aeration of her nether region. Not so long ago, split bloomers had been all the rage – she couldn’t imagine why. She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, knowing she looked like a light skirt. Only with no skirt.

Fortunately for them, the hackney cab driver had seen far stranger things around London in his day. “Ladies,” he tipped his hat. He was clearly taking his cues from Prim’s impeccable gown rather than Rue’s ridiculous lack of one. He also seemed taken with Prim’s winning smile and long lashes.

“Oh, how kind of you to stop, good sir,” Prim simpered.

As if it weren’t his job, thought Rue, but let her friend work her magic. Taking her cue from the simpering to act the part of an invalid.

Primrose recited Dama’s address. “Quickly, if you please – we are in some distress.”

The driver was concerned. “Is the young lady well?”

Rue stumbled helpfully, pretending faintness as she climbed into the cab. She didn’t have anyone to imitate in this matter; everyone she knew was in excellent health. Thus the act might be a tad overdramatic, but the driver looked adequately troubled on her behalf.

“Oh, sir!” Prim widened her eyes, pulling his attention back. She wobbled her lower lip. “Tragical accident.”

“I’ll get you there as quickly as possible, miss.” Suddenly converted into a white knight, the driver whipped his horse to a trot.

Rue’s adopted father was a rove vampire of considerable style and vast means. He operated outside hive sanctions and fashionable restrictions – always claiming that the latter was the reason he left. He controlled a gossip network of dozens of fashionable young dandies, several exotic trade concerns, the political position of potentate advisor to Her Majesty Queen Victoria and, perhaps most importantly, had been the dominant influence on male evening dress in London since the death of Beau Brummell half a century earlier.

He received the two young ladies in his drawing room with both arms extended and his new favourite toy, a large multiphase appearance reparation kit, strapped to one arm. “My darlings, my darling girls. My Puggle! My little rosehip! How lovely. How very lovely to see you both.” Dama always behaved as if he hadn’t seen an acquaintance in years. “Time between visits,” he usually said, “is irrelevant to vampires. We are old and often forgotten – people know we will always be there, thus we vampires very much like to be remembered.” He wielded verbal italics as if they were capable of actual bodily harm. Not as unlikely as one might think since, with him, word emphasis sometimes did cause incalculable pain.

Primrose ran into the vampire’s arms with alacrity, hugging him in an excess of emotion for a young lady of quality. She was rather too fond of the rove for her hive-bound mother’s comfort, and thus did not get to visit him as frequently as she liked.

Rue, although equally pleased to see him, was confined to clutching his gloved hands and exchanging air kisses in the French manner, a technique they had adopted to prevent her skin from touching his inadvertently. Tonight, caution was required in spades as she wore nothing more protective over her ruined bloomers than a Chinese silk dressing-gown she’d grabbed on her way in.

Dama would comment on her improper state of dress. “Puggle, lovest, must you appear in such a very Grecian manner?” He winced as if ruminating on an overabundance of chitons with which he had once had personal affiliation. Which he might have. Rumour had it that Dama was very old indeed. Rue never asked; it was considered beyond the pale to ask a vampire his age – literally. But she paid attention to the precise way he executed certain vowels when speaking. If anyone consulted her – which no one ever had – she would have said Greek in origin.

“I’m wearing a very respectable dressing gown,” she protested. Dama’s drones kept a full selection on hand in the front parlour for when Little Miss returned in a state as they called it. The drones always chose beautiful, highly decorated, full coverage dressing-gowns. They were terribly concerned with Lady Prudence’s dignity and reputation. More so than she, much to their distress.

“Yes, dear, but this is my drawing room, not a Turkish bathing house.”

“Your drawing room, Dama dearest, has seen far worse.”

“Too true, too true. There might be something in the idea, come to think on it. Bath houses ought to come back into fashion soon, everything is about steam this century already. I should invest. Here, put this in your hair at least.” He popped open his appearance kit and ejected a ribbon and two long emerald hair pins.

Rue took them with an arched eyebrow. “Silver-tipped? You expecting trouble from the neighbours?”

“One can never be too careful with werewolves around.” The vampire gestured for the two ladies to sit, pausing to remove his gloves and hat. Rue only then registered that he had been about to go out.

Prim took possession of the end of a gold and cream brocade chaise next to an aged calico cat, trying not to disturb the decrepit creature. The cat opened one bleary eye and croaked at her politely. Prim scratched the animal’s head in response.

   
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