In The Matter Of Savinkov Snippet 04
She wasn’t especially worried that the Okhrana agents would be able to spot Savinkov. But she’d have to take steps to evade detection herself. Fortunately, the arrival of the new party presented her with a better opportunity than trying to fit herself into the large group from Hyderabad. That had been her best option prior to their arrival, but it hadn’t been a very good one. Her features could pass as those of someone from south Asia, but her skin tone was far too light.
Being careful not to move too quickly and draw attention to herself, she slid into a seat behind a tall young girl sitting next to a man she assumed to be her father. The girl was pretty, in a modest sort of way. Northern European, clearly: pale skin; dark blonde hair; blue eyes. Not one to draw the attention of most boys immediately, but a girl who’d have no trouble fascinating any boy who did become attracted to her.
Vera leaned over the shoulder of the girl and asked: “How much longer will the wait be, do you know?”
The girl turned to look at her, a bit surprised. She hadn’t heard Vera take her seat. “I’m not really sure, Madame. But I don’t have the impression it will be much longer.”
“Let’s hope not.” Vera smiled ruefully. “These chairs are sturdy but not very comfortable for long stretches.” The rueful smile expanded into something more cheerful. “Fortunately, I am–ah, how to put it in English?–‘well-padded,’ perhaps? In my native German, I would say zaftig.”
Vera extended her hand. “I am Vera Duchesne.”
The girl extended her own and they shook hands. “Pleased to make your acquaintance. I am Charlotte Luff. I thought Vera was a Russian name, not German.”
Vera took a brief moment to wish a silent curse upon all precocious girls. Only a brief moment, though. Having been one herself, the curse was half-hearted anyway.
The best way to deal with such girls was to intrigue them. Trying to fend off their curiosity was pointless.
“You’re quite right–although the name is widespread across the Slavic lands, not just Russia. My given name, however, was Verena.” Here a bright, gleaming smile, hinting that the girl was being drawn into conspiracy. “Which, despite its Latin origin–from vereri, it’s thought–is now properly Teutonic. But my late husband was half-Russian on his mother’s side and since he thought the name was a bit grandiose–”
The girl clapped her hands gleefully. “Oh, yes! If it’s from the Latin, it would mean ‘to fear’ or ‘to respect’. Certainly nothing a husband would favor.”
Vera took a brief moment to wish a silent blessing upon all precocious girls. “Exactly what he said himself. So he insisted on substituting Vera. Being honest, I prefer the name myself. ‘Verena’ is so… so…”
“Stand-offish,” the girl supplied.
“Precisely.” Now joined in mutual conspiracy, the plump middle-aged woman and the slender teenage girl exchanged gazes of mutual admiration.
Mission accomplished. Immediate mission, at least.
The girl shifted on her own seat. “They’re really not very comfortable, are they? I think they’re designed this way in case of emergencies. Look–they even have some sort of safety harnesses.”
The spirited discussion Charlotte was having with Madame Duchesne drew her father’s attention. He’d left off his discussion with Mr. and Mrs. Shankar and taken a seat between Charlotte and Adrian. He looked over Charlotte’s shoulder and smiled.
“Indeed, they are,” he said. “Aetherships have difficulty with strong magnetic fields at times. The engines which keep this transfer station in the air are essentially the same as those in aetherships. If the Earth’s magnetic field gets unruly, which can happen from time to time, the transfer station could undergo rather severe turbulence. Hence the design of these chairs. They keep the passengers from being flung about and injured.”
Adrian’s attention had also been drawn and, as usual, he became obstreperous. “But that doesn’t make sense, Father. Shouldn’t they have them all around, then, instead of only on one side?”
“I imagine the weight in those compartments across from us fairly well counter-balances our own, Adrian,” their father replied. “In any event, as heavy as this transfer station is, I doubt if the weight of the passengers is all that great a concern.”
“How fascinating,” said Madame Duchesne. She returned Edward Luff’s smile with a very friendly one of her own. For a moment, Charlotte wondered if the woman might be trying to flirt with her father.
No, that would be ridiculous, she decided. Madame Duchesne was apparently a widow and she was attractive enough, in a fleshy sort of way. She had intelligent eyes, so dark a brown they were almost black. Quite striking, really.
She was much too old; at least five years older than her father.
It was too bad, really. After Charlotte’s father celebrated his fortieth birthday, just a few months earlier, she had set herself the goal (among many) of seeing to it that he remarry. Madame Duchesne was an interesting woman–quite perceptive, obviously–and would have otherwise made a suitable match. Preliminarily speaking, that is. Inquiries would have had to be made, naturally. A woman from the continent–formerly married to a Frenchman–one never knew what one might encounter under such circumstances.
It would have made for an interesting investigation, actually. But there was no point to it, given the age difference between her father and Madame Duchesne. Five years. Practically an eternity, even for someone at the mature age of fourteen. Had the genders been reversed… possibly…
But, no. Out of the question. They were not Hindus, after all.