“Exactly like the girl who was brought to the museum,” interrupted Adira. “Is she your chosen bride?”
“Chosen by them. Not by me. I have engaged your uncle as my attorney and he, clever lad, has found a legal means to set me free of the conditional Will. Today he is sending a letter to all of them alerting them to this fact.”
“Therefore tomorrow, once they have read that letter, you imagine they shall leave you in peace?”
“You have a more charitable view of human nature than I,” said Adira. “Unless, of course, that legal precedent my uncle has found will also grant them the inheritance they seek.”
“It does not!”
“Then, what is the motivation for them to leave you alone? Do you, in truth, expect them to kiss adieu to their rightful inheritance and walk away from something they have desired for years and consider theirs by right? More fool you, if this is so.”
Emmett went to answer then halted. “Oh.”
Emmett huffed out a breath and leaned back in his chair. “That is very annoying. You are correct. They will not surrender until they receive that cursed money. They will hound me for the rest of their lives, whining and begging and plotting my downfall. Or seeking their revenge.”
“I would assume so.”
“Dammit. If that is so then it is not safe for you to travel with me.”
“I am forewarned,” said Adira. “Therefore I shall take the proper precautions.”
“You are still willing to accept my escort?”
“Indeed. I welcome it.”
“In that case since I know your dearest secret and you know my hidden scandal, shall you give permission for me to address you informally?”
“If you wish.”
“We share an attorney. That gives us a certain intimacy of acquaintances.”
Adira laughed outright at that. “Share a attorney, indeed.”
“Yes. Sir Burnside acts for you in the matter of your inheritance, does he not?”
“Oh! Do you tell me he told you my history and kept yours to himself! How unjust!”
Adira leapt to her feet and stormed from the room. Emmett froze, suddenly aware he had made a grave error in judgment. It was never wise to give a woman reason to be angry with a man even if it were another man. He rose to his feet, considering fleeing the room and leaving Burnside to his earned punishment but fellow feeling would not permit him to go. Dragging his feet and hoping for an emergency to give him reason to depart the house he followed Adira to the study.
Emmett arrived in time to see Burnside taking his niece’s hand and uttering a sincere apology.
“…I should have tendered you the same respect and privacy as I extended to Emmett,” finished Burnside.
“You should, indeed,” scolded Adira.
“In future I shall,” Burnside assured her. “But, for now, as you both know each other’s business I can see that you can be useful to each other.”
“How so?” inquired Emmett taking a careful step into the chamber.
“While you are escorting Adira about your family might think you are descending into matrimony of your own choice and leave you in peace. And for Adira. You are already serving to introduce her to a better understanding of London.”
“Indeed,” said Emmett. “But not today. Today I am paying a call on my ancestor’s attorney.”
“Yes, indeed. That is important,” said Burnside. “And you, my dear? A day spent with your muse?”
“Actually,” said Adira, slowly. “I had thought to do a little overdue shopping.”
“Take Molly with you.”
“Why? Because you are a gently born young lady. You should not leave the house unattended.”
“But, Uncle, I have not bothered with an escort all the months I have been here.”
“Then it is time enough for you to do so.” Burnside shook his finger at Adira before she could protest. “I insist!”
Adira deflated. “As you say, Uncle. Even lady authors must adhere to the proprieties when it cannot be avoided.”
Instead of sending his man of business, Emmett elected to accompany that gentleman. Mr. Robbins had managed Emmett’s business affairs from the time Emmett received his share of his first prize and over the years had demonstrated skill and trustworthiness and had advanced Emmett’s wealth immeasurably.
Since he had done so in Emmett’s absence he was regarded as trustworthy.
Josephus Kennedy the Third, Esquire, not so much.
When they arrived at the address in Kensington Emmett had alighted first and stared about, significantly unimpressed. The road here was not paved. There were wooden planks set beside the buildings that, being sunk in the mud and decaying, did little to protect feet and boots from the sludge. The stench from the street was bad enough, but mingling in an unappetizing manner was the smell of cooking oil and stale fish emerging from the nearest door.
Emmett consulted his notebook again and shook his head.
“This is supposed to be Mr. Kennedy’s office,” said Emmett to Mr. Robbins.
Mr. Robbins emerged, long nose first, well brushed beaver hat next, his immaculate kid gloves grasping the door while he examined the walkway for a safe place to put his shiny boots. The smell was coming from a cheap slop house that served the local workers and tradesmen. Several were loitering near the door, no doubt waiting for their meal to be cooked. Emmett turned slowly, examining the street and wondering why the attorney had given him the wrong address.
“Perhaps, Sir Emmett, those stairs lead the way to our destination?”
Emmett took a few more tentative steps toward the alley separating the slop house from a dry goods store. A staircase was, indeed, clinging desperately to the slop house and there was a small placard beside the door at its top. Emmett considered delegating the climb to his coachman or Tiger then reluctantly took the task himself.
He was the one who’d climbed rigging and masts, and slid down more than one line, both in sunshine and raging seas, therefore he was the one with the most experience with uncertain footing. He clung to the balustrade, for the illusion of stability and placed his feet carefully. In a few places he could see where the pegs and nails set into the wall were sliding free of rotted wood. The thin wood steps creaked and sang. His relief at achieving the top of his climb was lessened by the realization he would, eventually, have to go down again.
The noise of his climb had alerted those within and the door was flung open before he could read the notice.
Flung outward, unfortunately.
If it had not been for Mr. Robbins, climbing behind him, Emmett would have found himself thrown to the noisome mud below.
“Have a care!” cried Mr. Robbins, giving Emmett a hearty shove in the middle of his back and sending him stumbling into the chamber.
“I am so sorry, sir,” stuttered the bone-thin wretch within. “I was expecting Mr. Kennedy back, with our luncheon.”
“The master fetches the servant’s luncheon?” cried Mr. Robbins, deeply shocked.
“I’ve a crooked leg,” said the man, waving toward a foot both smaller than its pair and twisted to one side. “Dropped the lunch once when lost my footing and Mr. Kennedy said once was enough.”
Mr. Robbins stared, at the man, the dirty, poorly lit rooms, the sagging ancient chairs, the crowded desk and bitten down quills and his eyes bulged.
“Sir Emmett,” said Mr. Robbins. “I know you have a conflict with this attorney. It seems to me crossing his palm with sovereigns would quickly settle the matter.”
“No, indeed not,” said Emmett as the familiar creaking outside warned him that Mr. Kennedy was returning. “All of this, you see, is an example of my great-grandfather’s false economies.”
When Mr. Kennedy entered he nodded to Emmett and set about unpacking a steaming pottery dish of fried fish, a loaf of bread and two coffees, purchased from a street vendor. When questioned by Mr. Robbins he quickly confirmed Emmett’s supposition.
“The late Sir Royce demanded I provide him with my rent book, quarterly,” said Mr. Kennedy. “And my expense book. He wouldn’t believe that rents had gone up so it was necessary for me to go down, so to speak, to find accommodations that matched his decisions.”
“Unpleasant fellow,” said Mr. Robbins.
“A madman,” said Emmett, perching himself delicately on a uneven bench.
Mr. Kennedy said nothing.
“I have no wish to keep you over-long from your luncheon,” continued Emmett. “Mr. Robbins and I are here for a copy of my great-grandfather’s Will.”
“I am sorry not to be able to oblige you, Sir Emmett, but the late Sir Royce was quite clear on the matter. You are not to receive a copy.”
“Mr. Kennedy,” said Emmett, leaning forward with a sigh and resting his hands on his knees. “I have taken legal advice from a gentleman, a navy man, who was knighted for his legal services in the matter of the creation of the East India company and other matters close to the heart of the Crown. Sir Burnside.”
“Oh?” said Mr. Kennedy, going pale.
“Indeed. And he informed me that it is illegal to withhold the Will from a person named within it.” Emmett met the attorney’s gaze with one both steady and cold. “Are you about to suggest he is incorrect?”
“And, if you require he explain the matter to you, Sir Burnside will make the journey to this location, climb that excuse for a staircase and do so. But, mind me, he shall make you regret it. He has the gout and being put to unwanted exercise will decrease his good humor.”