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.”