Check out our episode here! Defy or Defend: A Delightfully Deadly Novella by Gail Carriger
It’s March 1869, nearly 20 years after the events that took place at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality and just prior to the introduction of the bustle. Sir Crispin Bontwee has been summoned to Bertie Luckinbill’s house in a matter for the War Office. Cris is used to the eccentricities of the house, the housekeeper, and the owner, and after some pleasantries about the recent passing of his father and the funeral they get down to business. To interject for one second, I say pleasantries in this instance only because Cris’s father was a rat bastard abuser who shall be missed by none especially Cris and all his sisters. So, back to the reason for being there. Bertie has a mission for Cris, it’s Sparkles or as the War Office have labelled her, the Honey Bee. One of the greatest agents on retainer at the War Office, the Honey Bee, can lull people into thinking she is helpless and sweet, but she has an unflappable demeanor and is extremely capable. We know her as Dimity Plumleigh-Teignmott. Cris is to act as her safety on a mission for BUR, the Bureau of Unnatural Registry, who has recently received word of trouble at a vampire hive in Nottingham. They seem ... off. The Queen communicates solely through the means of homemade valentines cards, most of the drones have been lost to abandonment and there are no clear reports of vampires. The Honey Bee will make everything shiny again.
Meanwhile the Honey Bee is trying to charm a gentleman inventor into submission, and he isn’t cooperating. It’s difficult to flirt with someone who won’t flirt back due to paralytic shyness, honestly! And to top it off the only subject to get the blasted man to talk is breakfast foods. He’s a dolt and an accidental traitor. This spy business is getting rather tiresome, something Dimity has thought on more than one occasion lately. She heads to Lottapiggle Tea Shop with her safety on this mission, Lord Pritchard, for post-mission refreshments and cons some new gloves out of the besotted fellow. Really, he knows who and what she is! Now Sir Crispin wouldn’t be so easily manipulated though she certainly wishes she could manipulate him (wink, wink).
Sir Crispin at the moment is still in Bertie’s home and Lord Akeldama has joined them and is fawning over him in that way Dama does when a delicious male specimen is before him. Especially now he knows Cris’s hair curls when it gets long and that he has quick deadly reflexes. Now down to business... Bertie informs Dama of Baroness Ermondy’s hive situation, Dama is surprised she is “going to goth” though she doesn’t appear to be at the black velvet stage yet. The queen is sequestered in a limestone cave, they lost Lord Rashwallop the previous year through an exploding wicker-work incident and they are down to three vampires, one drone and no servants. Baroness Ermondy is still young so the situation seems odd for her to be taking “the velvet path of colorless doom” so soon. The course of action is decided. The Honey Bee will pretend to be an artist with Cris in some other artistically creative pursuit pretending to be her husband. They shall visit, set the hive to rights and all will be well. If not, BUR will carry out more permanent measures with a Sundowner. All in two weeks. Leaving the next day. Topping.
Dimity is not unhappy with the situation and is practically bouncing and waxing poetic about it. She is excited to be Mrs. Careful, her husband is such a strapping man and would wipe his brow with a cool cloth to ease the floating sickness as they take a dirigible to Nottingham if Mr Careful, her husband, sigh, would countenance it. On the float they talk tactics in a private dining room. The youngest vampire, Mr. Wignall is of the Darma persuasion so no good there, Lord Kirby and Lord Finbar would make good seduction targets, both being old-fashioned and the latter being the hive praetoriani and who the War Office corresponded with in Mrs. Careful’s name. The drone is off limits and as he is high risk. Dimity would prefer the redecoration and household management approach first but policy dictates seduction first as it is usually more effective and they do have a narrow window to get this mission done.
With Dimity’s cover being an indifferent watercolorist, we must turn our curiosity to Cris’s, which turns out to be dance. Not your typical ballroom, but ballet, complete with pointy feet, twirling, and the occasion pirouette. This will be good! Dimity herself has brought pretty much her whole wardrobe and accessories for days, all of which are deadly, and this new thing called a bustle which the French fashion papers would have you believe are the latest thing. They arrive at Nottingham a few hours after sunset and are greeted by Lord Finbar. This is an indication of how bad the situation at the hive has gotten, sending a hive-bound Vampire to do a servant's job. Lord Finbar lays the Byronic melancholy rather thickly, bemoaning the grave situation of the hive. His cravat is old lace gone cream-colored with age, everything seems to droop, and to top it off, he's a poet. Still! It’s a well known fact that vampires sacrifice their creativity for the bite.
They finally arrive at Budgy Hall which is located in the center of Nottingham next to an extremely decrepit church and overlooking the churchyard. Of course it was. Lord Finbar disappears leaving them to deal with the luggage again, and not know if they should knock it not. They do and another vampire, this one is Lord Kirby, opens the door, allowing them entry they also met Mr. Theris the drone who is not subtle in his resentment (he’s a slime ball). Their room is glacial cold, dusty and severely out of fashion, the entire place is practically a mausoleum and something out of a gothic novel.
Dimity pulls out a harmonic auditory resonance disruptor from her bag which will allow them to talk freely even with supernatural snooping. After eating a particularly gross supper, it is time for bed… this could be awkward but thankfully an attached dressing room preserves dignity. Cris finally sees Dimity’s hair down, which has been one of his fascinations for as long as he has known her and he is entranced. Giving in to his need to touch it, he brushes her hair and things take a turn for the seductive but no seduction takes place. They do finally share a bed, they are pretending to be married after all, but they do nothing but sleep.
The next evening they see Mr. Theris escorting a buxom shepherdess type down the hallway. What’s going on here? Apparently she was the queen's dinner. Mr. Theris is curt and sharp with Dimity after he has finished escorting the young woman out, why is he still here? Dreadful man. It is over dinner, the strangest they have ever had, an all in one affair with no pudding course, that they meet the final hive member, Justice Wignall. Who can only be described as the potential heroine of a gothic novel. Still sporting the velvet of the hive, Justice wore a white billowing shirt akin to an overly dramatic pirate. Once the meal is consumed the vampires leave to hunt! To hunt! This must be reported to BUR! And then Lord Finbar asks for the queen's chambers to be checked as a neighbor has gone missing. There is only one thing for it, a shopping trip!
Priority number one is to find a tea house, they haven’t been served any since arrival at Budgy Hall! and it will give them the opportunity to plan and discuss their next steps. Cris and Dimity agree not to inform BUR, and their best plan is to lure the queen back into Society. A little redecorating, a little meddling, just enough to bring out the curiosity in her. A fun mission to go out on. Wait, what did Sparkles just say?
Vampires are notoriously nocturnal so meddling during the daylight hours means no interference. First things first, hot cross buns from the local bakery and on the way back the recruitment of domestic staff, parlor maids, three of them. Other positions would take longer to fill. In no time at all dusting, sweeping, beating carpets, curtains were measured and ordered. Dimity made lists on top of lists for jobs to be done, things to be ordered and staff to be hired. Eventually the activity wakes the odious Mr. Theris. Ugh. Calling the activity ”chaos”, he is not happy and will deal with them after dark with Lord Finbar. Obviously Mr. Theris thinks of the hive as his domain.
Lord Finbar isn’t put out by the cleaning and meddling, more its effects on his ennui. Dimity argues that no dust means no sneezing which helps maintain melancholy to no end. In Dimity’s useful style, she has the vampire befuddled and convinced that everything from the decoration to the new color scheme is his idea. Well done Dimity. Lord Kirby doesn’t seem that bothered, and frankly Justice, who apparently has a human lover, takes advantage of the clean banisters to throw dramatic poses and waft about wistfully. A day well done, it's off to bed for Mr. and Mrs. Careful.
Apart from Cris sniffing Dimity’s hair and Dimity snuggling up for warmth nothing of a steampunk sexcapade has happened… yet. but Dimity has decided to seduce him. Espionage had never been her chosen goal in life, darn her natural talent and honed abilities! She wants a home, a husband and children. Meanwhile the cleaning and redecoration is coming on apace with a veritable army of tradesfolk ready to get to work. While Dimity makes some terrible paintings of cows or dogs or whatever she claims them to be, Cris decides to get into the character of Mr. Careful, donning indecently tight dancing attire and returning to an adjoining room to Dimity where he shall stretch and frolic like the cow in her picture. Dimity has gone a little red faced and breathless. Mr. Theris finds them in their artistic pursuit and is a bit of a hit about it. Justice finds it delightful, a former dancer himself and his lover has a similar glorious physique to Mr. Careful. It wasn’t until Justice drifted away that Cris realized he was wearing Dimity’s nightdress. Donning his greatcoat, Cris followed him into the night.
Dimity introduces Lord Finbar to Rosie, one of the parlor maids, who would make an excellent drone. Rosie is very taken with him being a vampire and a poet, and having someone to adore his poetry would be good for him. When a milkmaid-looking lass knocks at the door as the queen's meal, Dimity tries to follow Mr. Theris as he takes her down, but isn’t successful, drat. Dimity also executes another turnabout with Lord Kirby. Honestly, she’s very good at befuddlement. She finds out Mr. Theris is the reason why all the servants and drones have left, he basically ran them off, called some lazy, accused others of stealing, etc. As if on cue, the previous cook knocks on the door, asks for her old contract back so long as Mr. Theris stays out of her way. Agreed! Mr. Theris is spitting teeth. It is great!
As Dimity was performing mild domestic miracles and befuddlement, Cris followed Justice and deduced that the vampire is a loon. In a very dramatic fashion he has run through the forest to have a lovers liaison where Justice and his lover Mr. Gantry have an encounter fit for the stage. Gantry is desperate to be Justice’s drone, but that is a decision for the queen who Justice sees nothing of. Oh the lament! Oh the tragedy! Oh my goodness this is too much.
Dimity is in the hunt for the queen, she hears her but doesn’t find her, Mr. Theris does and calls her out for her snooping. Once in the foyer Mr. Theris tries to turn on the charm and twiddles with Dimity’s buttons and propositions her when Cris returns, none too pleased. He could see that Dimity had the situation semi-under control with her pistol drawn, as having the gun drawn means she isn’t working an angle. Mr. Theris leaves now that his target is no longer alone, but he leaves without the key to the queen’s cave. Hahahahaha. Once in their room with the auditory resonance disruptor on, they share information including that the queen’s withdrawal appears to be fashion based. A few other pieces of information are exchanged and they finally kiss. Huzzah!
Later that evening Dimity and Cris do get up to more, but we are ladies and respect their privacy and shall not go into detail, only to say Cris does promise full ravishment when they are no longer living in a hive on a mission. Dimity has her tuppenny knight at last. Cris has turned into errandboy for Dimity, her lists are extensive but it is necessary if they are to succeed. It also seems to have become a ritual for everyone to gather at midnight for tea, vampires, staff and tradespeople. Lord Finbar enjoys the company of Rosie, Lord Kirby the discussions with the tradesfolk and Justice engages with Dimity about fashion. At the gathering Dimity gives Lord Kirby a gift of an automated chamois much to his delight and the gadget spurs lively conversation and Lord Kirby starts carrying it around like a pet. Dimity really knows what she is doing, so she acquires a corgi for the hive. She also helps Justice overcome his self-consciousness and wear a beautiful blue day dress and starts sending fashion papers and material samples to the queen via the shepherdesses. One, called Betsy, requests another visit with the queen as she seemed so sad. According to Mr Theris the queen does not like repeat meals but she is sincere so Dimity sneaks her down, it works a treat, Betsy is to be given a room in the Hall. Mr. Theris had proved to be the biggest problem so Cris makes some remarks about the stage and London, suggesting he consider his career. Thankfully he takes the bait. Odious man.
Justice has bloomed with Dimity and most especially Cris’s support. She has taken on the feminine pronouns and simply adores the fashion! Cris dances with her, compliments her and gives brotherly advice about not being taken advantage of by men. Dimity meanwhile is working on Gantry, or rather his parents, and getting them to accept this relationship. The issue is that they are intellectuals, the grand passion the two have quite confuses them. So, the first step is formally inviting him for tea, and soon Gantry is a regular visitor and very comfortable in the household. If only they could make it permanent… Hmmm... Lord Finbar on the other hand has been considering enlarging and opening the library to the public. This is very progressive and a good sign of stability.
Dimity is going behind Cris’s back and taking Betsy for trysts with the Baroness. This is good progress as Betsy does always come out with puncture wounds, Love marks yes, so the queen is only feeding when necessary. Lord Finbar’s library is coming along apace with Lord Kirby’s carpenter friend regularly at the Hall. Lord Finbar even wants to hold the intellectual salon Dimity suggested, or was it his idea? Additionally, Lord Finbar has composed a new somber and melancholic piece. Dear listener we shall not overwhelm you by its “profound nature”, it is simply “too powerful, too moving” for our podcast. Alas, the smooth sailing must end with the reappearance of Mr. Theris who walks through the front door with none-other than Lord Maccon, Alpha of the Woolsey Pack, Head of BUR and Sundowner. Lord Maccon is checking on the situation and to remind them of the time sensitive nature of their mission. Mr. Theris found no luck in London with his acting, Dama doesn’t find him suitable as a drone and would rather he went to the wolves. He is also not happy that Dimity has been seeing to the welfare of the queen with great success, Cris isn’t either but we’ll come back to that. In traditional bad guy form, he threatens Cris, but honestly he’s not really threatening is he?
The next night Mr. Theris is beastly, he upsets Rosie, ridicules Lord Finbar's expansion of the library and establishing it as a lending library, flirts outrageously with the carpenter in front of Lord Kirby. Even Trudge the Corgi is despondent around him. Only Betsy seems to take on Mr. Theris with righteous indignation. Good for her! Dimity also asks Lord Finbar if he would rather the praetoriani duties go to Lord Kirby because he doesn’t want to over tax himself and impact his melancholy and Lord Kirby is very willing. Thankfully, he agrees to swap roles; they just need the queen to emerge and agree to it.
So, back to Cris not being pleased that Dimity has been attending the hive queen alone. Cris is her safety and she’s gone against protocol and Dimity obviously knows she is doing something wrong because she never said anything. This has put some strain on their relationship, but given what they are getting up to in the bedroom you’d not really think so.
It is the night of the intellectual salon, Dimity’s brother Pillover, now an Oxford don, is in attendance Dimity introduces him to Lord Finbar and as they are both impossibly glum and dour, they shall get along smashingly. During the evening, Pillover tracks Cris down and has an unconventional brotherly conversation with him, which ends in him pretty much begging Cris not to let him put him off marrying his sister. He’s had to put up with hearing about Cris at length for years, and frankly he can’t take any more. Good ole Pillover. Lord Maccon is also in attendance but keeping out of the way, the hope is that a good enough show will prevent him needing to take any Sundowner action. Justice is wearing a pink frilly concoction and her interactions with Gantry are restrained and his parents are confused, shocked and delighted. The only potential hiccup is the loud screaming coming from the queens cave, she has yet to be fed. This is of course by design. Dimity is hopeful curiosity will entice her out.
Dimity trots down to the cave with a special present, and is careful to introduce herself to the queen. Talking fashion seems to calm the queen, she is appreciative of the gifts of fashion papers and cloth samples. Finally, we are able to find out what the heck happened! Countess Nadasdy has a very different stature to the Baroness and would continually influence fashion in a direction that did not suit her. Her favorite drone then left her for the opera stage, finding Nottingham too provincial and then her dear Lord Rashwallop went a little mad and killed a few people before being taken out by a Sundowner. The final straw came when a drone asked for the bite and died attempting the metamorphosis. In shame and sadness, she took to her cave. But now the bustle has been introduced. This compliments the Baroness’ figure, while ill-suiting the Countess'. And she has Betsy, but Dimity informs her that Betsy has gone missing which finally brings the Queen out. She has missed her dear vampires so, and the bustle has given her confidence to emerge.
Betsy has been locked in the silver cabinet. A room only Mr. Theris had access to. The odious man was being seduced by a werewolf claviger so didn’t care about their opinion of him, he’d had enough and was going to the Sheffield Pack. The queen held court over the intellectual salon with Lord Maccon watching on. Gantry is presented and accepted by the queen, soon to be an official drone. As will Rosie, and does Lord Finbar look striking in emerald green. Trudge the Corgi is of course the true winner, easily charming the queen into submission. Good doggo. The intellectuals at the salon are enthralled by the dramatics and trying to infer meaning into it all, especially the throwing away of blank valentines cards. Bravo! But what of Dimity and Cris? Well the Honey Bee married her tuppenny knight, they produced an embarrassing amount of offspring in rapid succession and spent many nights running down garden paths, dressing gowns trailing and laughing.