Home > Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1)(9)

Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1)(9)
Author: Gail Carriger

Rue’s mother was a veritable battle-axe, boasting a shape not unlike that of a tragic soprano in a Germanic opera, only with less inclination to throw herself off bridges. In fact, she was not overly demonstrative about anything, least of all bridges. Not that Rue felt she suffered from the lack. As muhjah to Queen Victoria herself, Mother had an empire to manage which should take precedent over such inconsequential distractions as fashion, household management and child-rearing. All three of which she left in the capable hands of Dama. With good reason, for if asked, Rue had no doubt that Mother would have stated, in tones of mild disgust, that the vampire was not only better at such mundanities, but actually appeared to enjoy them.

Her mother took another sip of the tea and then rendered judgement. “Aggressive malt overtones, lots of smoke, a little like licking the inside of a fireplace.”

Rue added, “In the best possible way, I’m sure she means to say, Dama.”

Dama, perched on the edge of his seat like some brightly coloured bird, nodded. “Like Lapsang?”

“Yes. Lapsang, but brighter, more acidic tones. Good for blends, I’d hazard a guess. And Lapsang does very well these days, I am given to understand.” Rue’s mother put the tea-cup down as firmly as if it were a dog she had just instructed to stay.

Rue added, “Oh yes, it’s served in only the very best drawing rooms.”

Dama positively gleamed in excitement. “Ah, my dearest, darling, Alexia bonbon, I knew you would have all my answers for me.” He might even have bounced slightly.

Rue’s mother determined that settled the subject, and turned to her daughter. “And what have you been up to this evening, infant?”

Rue bridled at the tone of her mother’s voice. She wished she could act like someone else around Mother – pretend to be Uncle Rabiffano, for example. But it was useless to even try: her mother always brought out the worst in Rue. Which is to say, Rue’s actual personality proved impossible to repress and all acting ability deserted her. When Lady Maccon used that tone of voice Rue was irreversibly thirteen again. “I was at the Fenchurches’ ball with Primrose, as I informed you I would be. Would you believe the Stilton on the cheese plate was misplaced? And they had the latest floating dirigible lighting arrangement from Quimble’s – a ridiculous expense. And Mrs Fenchurch was positively vulgar – she must have worn an entire breastplate of diamonds.”

Dama obligingly switched his delight from tea to gossip. “Were they paste? I’d wager they were paste. His business concerns have taken a tragic downturn recently, did you hear? Very weak indeed.”

Unlike Dama, Rue’s mother was not to be misdirected. “Ah, then you weren’t running through London in your bloomers? Oh good. I did hear this wild rumour about a werewolf in bloomers. And I thought to myself, here now, none of my dear husband’s pack are that experimental.”

Dama looked intrigued. “Are you quite certain?”

Rue snickered, imagining the fuzzy uncles in bloomers. She could see, perhaps, on a lark, some of Dama’s drones bouncing about in lacy pantaloons, but not a werewolf. They were much more dignified.

“You must be mistaken, Mother.” She stopped smiling and tried to be prim, crossing her hands delicately in her lap in a modest manner.

Mother tapped her parasol, an impossibly ugly accessory she dragged with her everywhere day or night, dinner party or ball. “Yes, I suppose I must. You couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with, perhaps, the acquisition of this unusual tea?”

Rue looked affronted. “I’ve no idea to what you are referring, Mother.”

Accustomed to her daughter’s stubbornness, Lady Maccon turned to the vampire. Her famous Italian glare pierced Dama. “What’s are you two hiding?”

Dama looked equally innocent. “Us? Nothing, gooseberry pearl. Nothing at all.”

Lady Maccon leaned forward and grabbed Dama’s hand. At the contact, the vampire turned mortal. Her power wasn’t like Rue’s – she didn’t take on the vampire’s abilities, and the effect wouldn’t last once she let go, but she did turn him human. It was this skill that made her soulless, and made most vampires loathe her upon the very realisation of her preternatural state. Of course, once her personality asserted itself, vampires tended to loathe Rue’s mother for her own sake.

“Lord Akeldama, I will not have you involving my daughter in some seedy tea extraction mission!”

Dama sat back, affronted. “My darling girl.”

Rue leapt to his defence. “When has Dama ever done anything even remotely seedy?”

“Of course, infant, permit me to rephrase. I will not allow you to involve my daughter in some stylish tea extraction mission, either.”

“Could we say ‘stylish tea infusion mission’?” Dama suggested meekly.

Rue was not going to let her mother coerce her Dama. She mounted a secondary defence. “Pish-tosh, Mother. May I kindly remind you that I am all grown up and perfectly capable of making my own tea-related decisions.”

“Like rampaging around London in your bloomers?”

“I wasn’t in human form, no one knew it was me. At least, not until the tether to Uncle Rabiffano snapped.”

“So it was you? Oh dear me, the scandal! You’ll have to retire to the countryside until it blows over at the very least. How will we keep this out of the popular press?”

Rue felt like stamping her foot, but didn’t on principal. “Of course it was me. And I will certainly not go to the countryside.”

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