Wednesday, August 30, 2017

uncle burnside, part 6

Henry answered the door at Emmett’s knock and stood blocking the entrance, as solid, impassive, and imperturbable as ever.
How is your foot?” inquired Emmett.
Thank you, sir, for your inquiry,” said Henry without inflection. “One’s foot is quite well. How is Sir’s foot?”
Both of Sir’s feet are well, thank you. Is Captain Sir Burnside available to visitors?”
If Sir Emmett will wait?” Henry stepped backwards two paces allowing Emmett to enter before vanishing down the dim hall.
A few moments later Burnside’s voice echoed through the house. “Of course, I’m home, you imbecile! Can’t you see me sitting here? Emmett! Emmett! Get in here!”
Tossing his hat onto the hall table Emmett strode down the familiar pathway to the study. Captain Burnside had both feet on the ground and was leaning forward, watching the door when Emmett appeared.
“’Tisn’t Wednesday,” declared Uncle Burnside, unnecessarily. “What brings you to my door this morning?”
My damned family.”
Oh, bless me,” said Uncle Burnside, settling himself comfortably again, both feet elevated. “There are days when I think we should be as the birds and cast both off-spring and parents from the nest!”
I would join in the casting, I assure you,” said Emmett, bitterly as he took his usual seat. “You would not believe what my family has done now.”
Ah, a challenge! Tell all, lad and I shall declare or deny my belief.”
It took little time for Emmett to describe his abduction and the reason for it. In his usual unsympathetic manner Uncle Burnside interrupted several times to laugh.
Well, what say you?” inquired Emmett when his tale was done.
Say to what?”
Well,” Emmett considered. “Firstly, can they compel me to marry?”
I do not know. Are you in debt? Do you owe any of them money?”
Not a dull and bent penny,” snarled Emmett. “They have given me nothing, thus I owe them nothing in return. My properties are all debt free. I have no debts of honor for them to buy up and I despise the lot of them so none may appeal to my good nature.”
That covers the matter quite thoroughly.” Burnside considered, rubbing his chin. “Have you any secrets? Can they blackmail you?”
Not in the least. I suppose I should be grateful that the old fool ordered the family into the black instead of the law, but no, I have lived my life as pure as the driven snow.”
Yes, indeed. I am certain you have.Uncle Burnside coughed into his hand and grinned. “In that case I don’t see that they can compel you, lad, although since they have already demonstrated that they have no compunction against kidnap, I should be wary of kidnap and compromise.”
Emmett stared. “They wouldn’t risk it. I tell you, Burnside, I would refuse to wed a woman no matter if we were found tied together naked!”
You must remember all of your family are clerics. They all are authorized to perform weddings. They might purchase a special license in your name.”
Damn them. They would. What is to stop them from faking a wedding, or performing a wedding with a substitute?”
A proxy wedding, you mean? Only that it is barely legal at the best of times, requires your written consent in advance, and a good reason – given to the bishop in advance and confirmed by you later – for why you can’t appear on the day to be wed in person, and they could not rely on your acquiescence.” Burnside frowned. “It might be necessary for you to post an … I do not know what to call it… the reverse of calling the banns and making a public announcement that you are not getting married to any woman suggested by your relatives. That might embarrass them enough to send them scurrying back to their burrows.”
Emmett laughed. “I’d do it, except the balance of the Ton might regard that as a challenge to bring me to the altar themselves. I hesitate to alert all those match-making mothers that I, and my money, exist. Thus far I have managed to avoid their notice.”
In that case, I would suggest a call to the London Doctor’s Commons to notify them that any application for a special license in your name is not to be honored and ask that they notify York and Canterbury as well. No license, no banns, and you cannot be married.”
Good idea, Burnside. I shall send a message to Doctor’s Commons tonight and go in person if required.”
What was the phrasing of the will again?” inquired Burnside, rubbing at his chin. “A woman plain and proper? Hardly kind. To you or to her.
Cruel, vicious even. Of course, that old cur had not a jot of compassion in him.”
Burnside had, fortunately, not met the elder Sir Joyce Emmett and had only the younger man’s opinions to form his views, but given the report of the Will, likely the old idiot was as vicious as young Emmett reported.
Emmett, my lad,” said Burnside after giving the matter thought. “I must know, what exactly does the Will say? All of it!”
I have no idea. I have told you all I remember.”
Yes, but as a strategist you know you should know your enemy. You need to know exactly the phrasing. Therein is your best defense.”
Well, they didn’t give me a copy.”
Have your man of business demand a copy, lad. How can you be so foolish as to have not done so? You are named in the Will, even if the naming only placed obligation upon you. You have a legal right, nay, they have a legal obligation to send you a copy.”
They do? Then I shall demand it.” Emmett paused then said, slowly, “would you do me the excellent favor of reviewing it?”
If you wish. I have not practiced law since, oh, before you were a boy.”
Not so long ago as that,” said Emmett. “But I heard of how mightily successful you were.”
But I specialized in maritime law. There is a difference.”
Granted. The Navy forgives less. Even so, cast an eye over it. I shall owe you a favor.”
Good.” Burnside grinned. “And I call that favor in.”
Emmett blinked. “What? Already?”
As it happens, yes. I have a favor I intended to ask of you when next you called and now is as a convenient time as any to lay the matter before you.”
Oh, well, any service I might do for you, Burnside, you know that.”
You might regret … no, I shall not say that. It is hardly worth commenting on so slight an obligation.”
A slight obligation,” repeated Emmett. “Already my heart freezes.”
This seemed to amuse the old captain greatly.
Oh, very well,” said Emmett. “Come, tell me, what do you want me to do?”
Miss Adira, my niece, has conceived an ambition to become a lady author.”
Ugh! All sensibilities revolt!”
Now, now, be kind. My Adira is not the usual run of silly females. She has a good head on her shoulders and a good turn of phrase and a sense of humor that should be valued.”
Spare me this, I beg you,” said Emmett, still laughing. “A lady author? Tell me she writes dreadful novels and I shall not be surprised.”
What do you expect? It is not as if she has the training to write treatises on Galvanism. Or do you think her the type of woman to write improving pamphlets on the moral obligations of good Christian women?”
Oh, no. Not her,” said Emmett, sobering. “Dear God, Burnside, if this is her ambition what shall be your need for me? Do you want me to read the drivel and give her my honest opinion and spare you the task?”
Not in the least. I want you to take her about London. With my foot I can’t escort her where she needs to go.”

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Uncle Burnside's Niece part 5

Uncle Burnside was a person disinclined to read newsheets that concerned themselves with gossip, therefore his household was ignorant of the storm of gossip holding the Ton fascinated. His topics of reading interest were primarily the progress of the war and that state of his overseas investments. To these he had added working on Adira’s book.
So far they had managed to agree on a simple, yet important change; instead of the moors, they were going to site the story in London. London was a pool of villainy and degeneracy going back to the Roman days, of that Uncle Burnside was quite emphatic.
The advantage to Adira meant that she could describe the city from her own knowledge and in sufficient detail to entertain those who would never have a chance to visit the capitol without insulting the intelligence of a more informed reader.
As a muse Uncle Burnside was not content with offering encouragement and freshly mended pens. The first writing task he set Adira confused her utterly.
You want me to do what?” demanded Adira.
I want you to go to the park across the street and describe my house as if it is the most dangerous building a poor but honest young lady should think about entering,” repeated Uncle Burnside calmly.
Adira burst out laughing. “You cannot be serious, Uncle! This is a modern building. Comfortable. Warm. Welcoming. The stonework is clean and neat and there is not a gargoyle or crenellation to be seen. There is nothing to fear here.”
Uncle Burnside gave her a stern glare.
My dear girl, there is no reason for evil to dwell only in ancient piles of rocks. Use your imagination. Open your eyes. What would it take for the frontage of my house to be frightening?”
Adira smiled at him.
Oh, it is not possible. Even the stones of your facade are friendly.”
That, I doubt, is what you felt on the first day you arrived,” said Uncle Burnside. “Surely you were shaking in your boots to be left on the doorstep of a stranger’s house? A great, vast pile of unknown yawning open beneath your feet.”
Adira paused as the memory of that day sent chills over her skin. Her hands clenched beneath the safety of her traveling writing desk. That had been a sad day indeed. Her parents were less than a month buried. Her house, all her goods, her dogs and flowers and her friends and neighbors, all gone in an instant.
With two valises in hand Adira had been bundled into Aunt Clara’s carriage and swept away to London. Well, first to Aunt Clara’s home in the country to be tortured at the hands of Clara’s daughters, but then to London – a deep, smoky, stone-paved wilderness.
The pale, grieving girl had not questioned any of the decisions made on her behalf. Too numb to think, so chilled by the reality of her orphaning that she barely spoke. Not for an instant did she consider that she might have protested. Considering the matter now with a calm mind, from a distance of a year, Adira knew that Aunt Clara had been rude, unnecessarily cruel and ….
She hesitated. It was not polite or seemly to criticize her only remaining relative, not even in the privacy of her own mind. A cough from the other side of the fireplace brought her back to London and the person waiting for an answer.
You are right of course, Uncle Burnside,” said Adira, flushing. “If you are certain it does not hurt your feelings, I will admit to being unhappy when I arrived and your house did appear threatening to me.”
Exactly so. Therefore you should write arriving as you remember. Sad. Alone in the world. It was a dark winter evening, as I recall…”
Adira nodded even as Uncle Burnside laughed. Not an evil chuckle or a soul shriveling echoing roar, but a friendly sound, familiar to her after all these months.
It was mid-afternoon,” she corrected gently. “Overcast but not raining outright. A chill wind, but hardly a portentous one. However, I think I know what you mean. I should use my imagination.”
Good. Along with you then and I shall see you for tea and not a moment sooner!”
Oh, immediately Lord Wicked-Heart,” said Adira with a curtsy. “Your scullery maid flees your presence.”
Out, out! Take your Friday face away, before I command you to scrub out all the fireplaces until the skin of your hands crack and bleed! And then I shall have you scrub the bloodstains away.”
They both laughed and Adira took herself out to the sunshine. This early in the spring the sun was not particularly strong and the breezes were still chill as they chased dust down the street, but that did not deter Adira. She had an idea now, a good solid idea of what sort of scene she wanted for her book.
She wanted to surprise the reader. 
 
Now that she’d changed the setting, she wanted her evil household to be hidden in plain sight. She wanted to create a street were everyone minded everyone else's business but didn't see what was important, what was hidden.
She considered the matter. What was important? What secret would she chose to hide behind these well maintained facades?
Adira bit her lip, watching as the crossing sweeper cleared the evidence of a horse’s passage from the street. It would be as well for her to discover the crime before she got far advanced with the story. Kidnap was a popular crime. Who had kidnapped whom?
Good morning, Miss Cooper,” said a familiar voice.
She turned to find herself face to shiny silver buttons with Uncle Burnside’s nearest neighbor, Captain Emmett Farrah, late of His Majesty’s navy. Since the Captain was in the habit of calling upon Uncle Burnside each Wednesday to gossip and play Backgammon, she knew him well enough. Knew his face and manners to the degree that when she was preparing to describe her hero it was his face and form she’d chosen.
His golden hair. His knowing, piercing blue eyes. Knowing that was enough to bring a blush to her face and render her near speechless whenever she encountered him. Now, with her writing pad in hand and ambition much in her mind, having him speak to her in that gravely his gravelly voice sent a blush to her cheeks that was so intense it made her dizzy. The only thing that kept her from collapsing in a heap was the sudden realization she should write her reactions down while they were fresh in her mind.
Good day, Captain Farrah.” Adira dropped a shallow curtsy. “It is not your day for calling on my uncle.”
Indeed, you are correct,” said the Captain, smiling down on her. “But, as it happens I am in need of good, sensible conversation, and as you seem to be on your way somewhere important, I shall call on your uncle instead.”
Adira laughed and waved toward the house. “I am not going far. To the park only, but I am certain my uncle would be delighted to receive you. As you have not lost your skill with navigation, I assume you may find your way unassisted to the door. Just watch out for Henry. I think the cook dropped something heavy on his bunion this morning and he is out of sorts as a consequence.”
Good lord, that is a frightening thought,” said the captain, looking toward the steps and pressing a hand against his heart. “Do I dare venture within? Shall you not take up cutlass and pistol to guard my back?”
Courage, Captain. Last time I checked Henry was not armed with anything more significant than a dust cloth.”
The captain pretended to suppress a shiver.
A dust cloth can do untold damage in the hands of an expert. Perhaps I should escort you to your destination instead?” he said, walking to the other side to stand between her and a passing carriage. “Hyde park, is it?”
Too far.” Adira pointed to the first of the benches behind the wrought iron fence of the tiny private park shared by those who lived in this square. “That is my destination, sir. I believe I shall manage alone.”
If you insist, then I shall away to beard the lion.”
With a bow Captain Farrah waved her on. Even though she had refused his company he did stay on the footpath watching until she was safely within the park, the gate closed behind her and seated on her chosen bench. His solicitude confused her and she took out her pencil and wrote rapidly of her reactions, his face, the turn of his lips and the degree to which his deep laugh affected the beating of her heart.
Perhaps she should change her mind and make him the villain instead of the hero.
Perhaps.
It was difficult to decide.
Someone as deeply brooding as he, who had traveled mysterious lands and learned odd languages and collected even odder curiosities seemed designed for villain-hood. Someone whose friendliest laugh struck to the heart, who made a young, impressionable girl think things, feel things that she knew she should not, was destined to be a villain. 
Not necessarily a scary one. She would have to use her imagination for that. Sadly, she was not afraid of Emmett Farrah.
At least, not very much.