Arsenic hurried to shut her medical kit. “Weel, I’ll make myself scarce then.” It hissed as it folded and spiralled down. “When will you be notifying us all about the position?”

Lady Akeldama was making her way around the table in a cautious lumbering manner. Arsenic’s physician’s eye was caught by her movements. Perhaps her roundness was not dietarily dictated. A bairn, then.

She waddled up to Arsenic. “Don’t be silly. It’s filled.”

“Oh aye?” Arsenic was crushed. Then why have I been sitting here all this time?

“By you, of course!” The captain grinned at her. “Floote approves, don’t you, Floote?”

Much to Arsenic’s shock, a ghost was floating next to her. He was a dour-looking gentleman in clothing from the 1840s. A ghost tethered to a dirigible, who’d have thought?

“Formerly Floote, this is our new doctor, Arsenic Ruthven. Will she do? Yours is the last vote of import.”

The ghost, who seemed a little worse for wear – Arsenic would guess he was edging into poltergeist stage – gave her a regal nod of approval.

Arsenic nodded back.

The captain twirled in a cautious circle. “Do I look like a proper bride, Floote?”

The ghost nodded again. His expression was amorphous but possibly near to sentiment.

He drifted down through the floor.

“Old family retainer,” explained the captain, “my grandfather’s valet and then my mother’s butler. He’s very wise, and possibly an evil mastermind, although he’d never admit to it, even after death.”

“How is he here?” Arsenic couldn’t help her curiosity, it was medical in origin.

“We have a preservation tank.”

Arsenic could feel her skin prickle. “You are equipped to transport supernatural creatures by air?”

“It’s only for Floote, although we have used… That’s a long story.”

Arsenic was disposed to be open to new ideas, even extraordinary ones involving the ghosts of butlers.

“Now, would you like to come along to my bally wedding or not?”

Arsenic was both touched and surprised. She gestured down at herself. “I’m na dressed for it.”

“My dear,” said Lady Akeldama with a grin, “at my wedding we are lucky if half the company stays dressed at all.”

Miss Tunstell added, by way of explanation, “Half the family is werewolves.”

Professor Tunstell snorted. “And the other half is vampires.” He gestured to his stunning cravat. “So the rest of us must be overdressed. I have to wear a top hat.”

Arsenic shuddered at the thought. Top hats were absurd affectations. She’d had to wear one back in her I’m na a woman, I’m a doctor phase of training. “Ridiculous things.”

The professor lost a little of his awkwardness at that. “Exactly! They wobble. Virgil has me in a stovepipe for this evening. A stovepipe!”

Arsenic gave him a sympathetic smile. He promptly became once more reticent. Perhaps he had taken against her, or was simply painfully shy. Pity, he was rather adorable.

Arsenic turned her attention back to the ladies, who were making their way into the hallway. The tall goddess awaited, wearing an elaborate silk robe over a long satin skirt. Her hair was down and she wore no hat and little jewellery. Arsenic didn’t feel so bad about her golfing outfit if that was allowed at the wedding.

“If you and Prim can come to favourable terms, you’re very welcome to stay aboard The Spotted Custard immediately, Dr Ruthven.”

I really have the position! I’m employed at last.

Arsenic wanted to hug her new captain. “Oh, thank you! I’m sure we can come to terms.” I’m na disposed to be picky.

Lady Akeldama smiled. “Good! Then Prim will show you to your quarters, get you settled and spruced up. Unless you don’t want to come along and see the pomp and circus? For which, of course, I wouldn’t blame you. I wouldn’t attend myself, except that’s rather the point.”

“Who are you marrying?”

“Oh, it’s only Quesnel.”

“Quesnel?” That name again.

“Yes. He’s chief engineer aboard ship, and rather a pip with devices and machines. Takes after his mother. Doesn’t look like her, though. He’s got this cute little button nose and blond hair and he’s charming and suave. He’s French, so of course he’s suave. Flirts like anything. I rather adore him, you see? Well, love him, really. And since there’s coal in the boiler, everyone is determined that we better had.”

Arsenic arched both brows. “Seems logical.”

“That’s what Quesnel said.”

“Are you na happy about it?”

“I think I will be, after the wedding. Right now it seems rather a fuss and bother.”

Arsenic nodded. She’d seen many a wedding over the years devolve into crisis. Her extended mess of sisters and cousins was a mixed bag. They tended towards the dramatic when gathered together for any length of time. There was a distinct possibility she’d escaped to Africa to get away from having to attend any more family weddings. Lady Akeldama’s, however, was someone else’s family. Much easier on the nerves.

“We’ll discuss your condition soon?”

“If we must. Everyone is insisting it might be complicated. It’s certainly awkward.” The captain patted her rounded belly, but her face showed no genuine annoyance. Then she turned away to yell, “Primrose!”

Arsenic suspected that she’d need to become accustomed to fast changes in topic and attention.

Reticence (Custard Protocol Series #4)