Dannie sighed, not for the first time that afternoon. Jessie was half-tempted to put her book to the side and talk.
But only half-tempted, for if there was one thing Jessie had learned in almost three years of dorm and now house-space with Dannie, it was that Dannie would talk when she wanted to talk, and not before. Dannie was not a gently-reared lady, taught since before she could talk to watch what she said, to not speak unless spoken to, to hide her emotions, or at any rate not impose them on anyone else. She wasn’t taught to sit up straight and look whoever was speaking straight in the eye, to nod and smile and pretend to be interested even if she would find watching paint dry to be more interesting. (At least the paint never cared whether you looked interested or not.) Dannie was simply taught to be herself, to say what she thought, express what she felt, and lounge on the couch if that’s how she felt like resting her body.
Some days, Jessie was jealous of her for that. But not today.
Today, Jessie thought she might have an idea what was causing Dannie’s unusual mopes. And unlike the de Ganis girls, who would hear only middling — not necessarily bad! — news from home and go into shared worries and sulks that would last days, Dannie had to hear really bad news to retreat into herself, to stare at the wall and not say anything for more than ten minutes at a stretch.
Today, letters had come for all of them from Albion. Jessie’s letter from Alison had been stuffed full of details about Lady Claire’s collapse; Leona’s from Lady Guinevere’s had been similar; Lynn and Clarice’s letter from Lady Claire had less details and only insistence that she was fine, really fine, and they mustn’t dream of interrupting their studies to come see her. Dannie’s … whatever Dannie’s contained, nobody knew, for when she had received the letter, she had read it through but once before going into her bedchamber and shutting the door. She’d only come down an hour ago, flung herself on the couch, and not said a word since. Whatever the news was, it had to be bad.
Instead of reading, Jessie watched her friend sidelong, trying to gauge from Dannie’s face just what the news was. She looked … pensive, with a hint of anger. Well, at least nobody could have died, Jessie reasoned. Surely there’d be more of a visible, visceral reaction in the face of a death.
But then what was bothering Dannie?
Dannie sighed, and that was the last straw. “Something wrong?” Jessie asked, keeping her nose in the book and trying desperately to sound casual.
Dannie looked up, eyebrows slightly quirked. She looked again at the wall opposite. Then she spoke.
“My mum lost her baby.”
Jessie almost dropped her book.
“Dannie! Oh — oh my goodness — that’s horrible! Is — is your mother all right?”
Dannie shrugged. “Granny’s letter says she’s physically doing fine — as well as can be expected. But …”
“Mentally, not so much.”
“Oh goodness. How terrible. How — how far along …” Jessie paused. “Dannie?”
“You — you never even mentioned your mum was expecting.”
Dannie shrugged. “Mum asked me not to — I mean, partially because of this, partially because …” She straightened her skirt. “Well, the whole situation with Clarice — she might not have taken, you know, kindly to having another little kid running around just a couple of years before her kids were supposed to be the center of attention.”
That did not sound like Clarice at all, but Jessie bit her tongue and forced herself to be charitable. Even though part of her wanted to defend Clarice, to point out to Dannie for the five thousandth time that all was never as it seemed with the de Ganis girls, she would not. Not this time. Jessie mentally reminded herself that she wouldn’t be any more fond of a girl who snubbed Tommy or Kay as openly as Clarice snubbed — or seemed to snub — Freddy. And Tommy and Kay could arguably benefit from a good snubbing; it would deflate their egos wonderfully, while poor Freddy didn’t even seem to have an ego.
No point telling that to Dannie now, though. Or, perhaps, ever.
“And … I don’t know, thinking about this … about what Mum’s going through … makes everything more real, you know?”
Um … no?
Dannie turned on her back and looked at her left hand — no, at the gemstoned ring on her left hand. “In a little more than a year — that could be us.”
“I wouldn’t …”
“I mean, junior year is almost done, and you and Sir William and Lynn and your brother are getting hitched as soon as you can get your dress fitted — and Rob and I will probably be getting married within a month or two of you guys — and then, you know, that’s it. We’ll be married, we’ll be — grown-ups. We’re going to start getting bugged about when we’re gonna have kids!” Dannie flopped onto her stomach, rested her chin on her hands, and looked up at Jessie. “Think of it, Jess. A year and a half from now, we’re going to be expected to start popping out babies. Like it’s nothing. And what if we lose them?”
Jessie thought about that.
She slammed her book shut.
“St. Robert!” Dannie jumped. “What was that about?”
“You just said,” Jessie answered as she rose and replaced the book, “that a year and a half from now, we’re going to be — we’re not going to be kids anymore. We’re going to be baby-making machines.”
“Whoa, I didn’t say –”
“That’s what it amounts to, Dannie. So — we are going out. All of us.” Jessie turned around and put her hands on her hips. “Because our youth isn’t going to stick around and let us enjoy it forever.”
Three-quarters of an hour saw them — all five of them — dressed, coiffed, made-up, and at the Lion and Llama. Having a princess among your number certainly had its perks, for no sooner had they walked in the door than the hostess chased a group of unkempt males out the door and proudly offered them a long table.
Somehow, Dannie had ended up sitting next to Clarice — Jessie wasn’t sure how that had happened — but luckily neither of them seemed inclined to make an issue of it. Clarice sipped delicately at her wine (“delicately” because if she tried to put more than a small, ladylike sip in her mouth at one time, she would probably end up with some sort of horrific, acid-burn-like injury); Dannie, much safer with her ale, took large gulps of that and talked.
“Seriously, you guys!” Leona was on her third ale and it had increased her already-insane volubility. “You have no idea the kind of opportunities that are out there if Albion had a halfway-decent navy. Reme doesn’t have the money or the manpower to spare on ships, Glasonland doesn’t give a damn about oceangoing trade –”
“I can’t believe you’re still going on about that navigation lecture,” Clarice murmured into her glass.
“Why did you go again, anyway?” Lynn asked.
“Extra credit for our math class,” Clarice replied.
“And because we knew it was going to be AMAZING!” Leona almost-shouted, her hand flying out — Jessie barely ducked before she got an inadvertent slap.
“We were the only girls there …” Clarice moaned.
“So, we didn’t need a bunch of blonde bimbos yawning their way through it and making it hard to hear the speaker — no offense,” Leona added.
“Who was the speaker?” asked Jessie.
“Some captain from Glasonland,” Clarice answered.
“ADMIRAL Morrel,” Leona corrected. She turned to the table at large. “He’s the one who found the quick way to Smina. Oh, and he’s the High Admiral of the royal navy of Glasonland, for what little that’s worth.”
“I thought you said …” Lynn began.
“Wait. Morrel? Jacque Morrel?” Dannie asked.
Leona shrugged. “Something like that,” Clarice answered. “Jack, Jacques …”
“If it’s Jacques, I think he was my father’s first captain …”
Leona’s eyes lit up. “He WAS?! Oh my plumbbob! Dannie! You have to introduce me to him!”
“Leona, honey, I think you introduced yourself when you mobbed the poor old man and wouldn’t stop asking him questions–”
“This is different! If I was introduced by someone who knew him –”
“Um, Leona –” Dannie began.
” — or somebody who knew somebody who knew him, somebody who knew somebody he respected, then –”
” — he wouldn’t be able to brush me off –”
” — like I was an ignorant girl who didn’t know what I was talking about!” Leona finished triumphantly. “What’d you need?” she then asked, turning to Dannie.
“I hate to burst your bubble, Leona,” Dannie said, “but, um, my dad started sailing at the age of twelve. As a cabin boy.”
Leona’s face fell. “Oh …”
“So — I don’t know, somehow, I don’t think the Admiral is going to remember Dick Ferreira, who sailed for him, oh, I don’t know — over thirty years ago?”
Clarice blanched. “Did — did you say …”
“Dick? Aye. That was what all the sailors and other cabin boys called Dad. Drove him crazy.” Dannie grinned a wicked grin. “So, fast forward ten years, he’s married to my mother, he makes the mistake of telling her that story … with my granny in the room … so of course, whenever Granny wants to piss him off, he becomes Dick Ferreira once again.”
“Oh, my,” Clarice murmured.
“You should meet my granny, you know,” Dannie replied, raising one eyebrow. “You know. She’s one sassy woman. You two would –”
“I think they’d get along wonderfully, and perhaps, when we visit our parents after the new baby is born, we’ll ask Father for permission to visit your family,” came Lynn to the rescue. Or almost to the rescue, for of course, at the mention of the words “new” and “baby” in conjunction, Dannie’s face started to cloud over.
Time to change the subject. “So, Leona, what were you saying about Admiral Morrel being — what was he, again? A famous explorer and …?” Jessie asked.
“High Admiral of the royal navy of Glasonland, but that’s pretty much a pity post.”
“A pity post?” Lynn asked.
“Aye — one they give you because they know you’ve made a huge contribution to the country, but at the same time, they don’t have an appointment that’s actually worth something — or else they just don’t want to give it to you, because you’re common or a woman or something. I think that was Admiral Morrel’s problem.”
“Being common, you mean,” Clarice clarified.
“Aye, of course, what else? So, that’s a pity post.”
“I … see,” replied Lynn, in a tone that made it very clear that she didn’t see at all.
“And the High Admiral of the royal — aw, screw it, Admiral Morrel’s post is a pity post because Glasonland’s navy doesn’t do squat. It’s got like, three ships to take the King someplace if he wants to go anywhere. Which he won’t, because apparently King Vortigern is about to croak any minute–whoops!”
“Whoops?” Dannie asked.
Leona looked from side to side. “I think I just committed treason!” she whispered.
“Treason?” Lynn gasped.
Leona nodded hurriedly. “Aye! I was talking to one of the Glasonlander guys after the lecture — apparently it’s treason to state the obvious over there! And here?”
“Huh?” Clarice asked.
“Saying that the king’s about to — to — croak, even if it’s true, is treason in Glasonland!”
“Oh, Leona –” Jessie started.
“It is!” Leona hissed. “That’s what that guy said, and–”
“It’s probably true in Glasonland,” Jessie said, laying a hand on Leona’s shoulder. “But Camford isn’t Glasonland; Camford is a diplomatically neutral territory under the direct control of the Church. So you can say whatever you want about the King of Glasonland and not get in trouble.”
“Awesome! Hey, everybody!” Leona called out. “The King of Glasonland’s about ready to CROAK!”
The various other patrons of the bar looked up — stared at Leona — then very sensibly went back to whatever they had been doing beforehand. Leona drained her tankard of ale and grinned.
“Leona, I think –” Clarice began.
“Hey, are you going to finish that?” Leona asked, pointing to Lynn’s tankard.
“Thanks!” Leona said, pouncing the cup and draining that as well.
“I think,” Dannie said, “we need to find something … else to do.”
“Like what?” Clarice asked.
“Well — um …” Dannie looked around. “Well, we can see if those instruments they have in back still work!”
Jessie’s eyes went wide. Leona’s jaw dropped.
“The instruments?” Jessie squeaked.
“The instruments?!” Leona squealed. “Come on! Let’s go!”
“Dannie!” Jessie hissed.
“This — this is not –”
“Hey, at least it’s getting her away from the alcohol!”
“I — I don’t know that this is the best idea …” Lynn said tremulously.
“Aw, come on! It’ll be fun!” Leona said, jumping up. “You can dance!”
“Dance?” Lynn half-shrieked. “On the stage? Are you mad?”
“Well, you’re a great dancer? Why not?” Leona pulled poor Lynn to her feet. “And — and Clarice can play the cello, because she’s really good at that!”
“Er …” Clarice said, starting to rise.
“And Jessie, you learned how to play the piano, didn’t you?”
“Leona, I haven’t touched in years.”
“Aw, come on! It’s like riding a horse, you never really forgetting. And, um, Dannie — er …”
“I used to play the fiddle,” Dannie said.
“Awesome! So that’s everybody!” Leona called out.
“Wait — what will you do, Leona?” Clarice asked.
“Oh, that’s easy! I can’t play an instrument, and I’m too drunk to dance without falling on my face — so I’ll sing!”
Over the course of their impromptu performance, the girls of Albion learned five things.
The first was that Lynn truly was an excellent dancer.
The second was that Clarice was an inspired player of the cello.
The third was that piano-playing, while not quite as easy to remember as riding a horse, was a process that Jessie could remember sufficiently after a bit of warming up to follow Clarice’s lead.
The fourth was that Dannie remembered how to control the volume on the fiddle, which was good, since she remembered nothing else.
And the last was that alcohol did not in any way improve Leona’s singing ability.