Enjoy an excerpt from The Perks of Loving a Wallflower below!
Damaris burst into the parlor and shut the door behind her. “I’m here!”
Philippa hurried over to stuff a handkerchief in the keyhole before her mother returned to spy on them.
“We’re to speak Welsh, are we?” quavered Great-Aunt Wynchester.
“Greek,” said Florentia.
“Ancient Greek,” corrected Sybil.
“I’ll say this in English,” Damaris said, “because I don’t care who hears me. My uncle Captain Northrup can go to the devil and take his fancy title with him.”
Philippa frowned. “What happened?”
Sybil leaned closer to Philippa, voice low. “You didn’t hear about Damaris’s uncle? It was in the morning papers.”
“He’s being ‘honored’—” Lady Eunice began.
“—for his ‘cleverness’—” Gracie interrupted.
“—in stealing Damaris’s ideas,” Florentia finished.
“Before the first day of the season,” Sybil said in a rush, “Parliament shall bestow a viscountcy upon Captain Northrup. The Prince Regent will christen a chamber of the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich the ‘Northrup Salon’ to honor Northrup’s entire family.”
“Not his entire family,” Damaris muttered.
“Only the ‘important’ ones,” Gracie said.
Over two centuries ago, Sir Reginald Northrup, one of Captain Northrup’s ancestors, had created a semi-popular quartet of illuminated manuscripts, gorgeously hand-lettered on fine paper and decorated with large, intricate initials at the top of the text.
Philippa’s collection contained only one illustrated volume of Sir Reginald’s collected tales of English chivalry. The complete four-book set was rare to find. The binding on the volume Philippa owned was barely hanging on, which was how Damaris had first got the idea to—
“Oh no,” Philippa breathed. “Not your cipher!”
Damaris nodded miserably. “My cipher.”
Four years ago, Damaris had brought a family heirloom to the reading circle: a bright, colorful volume collecting dust in her uncle’s library. Leaves and pomegranates and flamboyant swirls decorated the gilded cover. The exterior edges of the pages likewise illustrated with half-moons of abstract swirls amid fruits and ivy. The interior was absolutely stunning. Though the style was identical, Philippa’s was a different volume, and in poorer condition.
Damaris created a cipher, using her uncle’s rare manuscript of chivalric tales as a base. She taught the code to the others, only for the group to lose interest when it proved impossible to decipher without having the illuminated manuscript at hand to use as the key.
“When we stopped using the cipher, I hated to see something so elegant fall into disuse. I showed the idea to Uncle Northrup and explained how it was uniquely suited to Sir Reginald’s quartet of chivalric tales, due to their astonishing uniformity, as well as the abundance and variability of—”
“English, you said,” barked Great-Aunt Wynchester.
“Yes. Thank you. I explained to Uncle Northrup as best I could and said the Crown might be well served by encoding messages in such a fashion. Uncle didn’t seem to think much of my suggestion or my cipher, and that was the last we spoke of it. He left for the battlefield again less than a week later. I forgot all about it until this morning.”
Chloe lifted the lid to the wicker basket dangling from her arm and handed Philippa a folded broadsheet. “This is the article.”
“Front page,” Philippa said as she unfolded it. “Not the scandal columns.”
“It ought to be a scandal,” Sybil said fiercely.
Philippa shook out the clipping.
Indeed, CAPTAIN NORTHRUP IS A HERO was printed across the top of the first page.
“It’s not fair,” said Lady Eunice. “He plagiarized his grand idea.”
“Since it was Damaris’s grand idea,” said Sybil, “it should be Damaris’s credit. And viscountcy. And royal celebration on the first day of the season.”
Philippa narrowed her eyes. “We shan’t allow this theft to stand.”