Friday, September 29, 2017

uncle burnside 17

Oh, he cut them out of his bible years ago,” said Emmett with a flip of his hand then poured himself another portion of brandy. “The old hypocrite!”
You didn’t like him?”
I liked his crew a lot better, which is saying something considering the scum that you have on the long haul vessels.” Emmett considered. “I don’t have to like my captains to serve them well, you know that.”
You never served with me. I wouldn’t have put up with your nonsense.”
What nonsense? I was the pattern-card of proper naval behavior.”
Lecherous, hard drinking, and venial!”
Never venial!” Emmett laughed. “I wouldn’t know how.”
Burnside chuckled. “Oh, Lad. I don’t doubt there were men enough on board willing to give a fresh faced young lad like you all the lessons you nee….” Burnside realized who was listening and the questions he was likely to face in the morning and stuttered to a stop.
And Roaring Bill at the forefront. Or – ”
Yes! Yes. Now, are you going to play or not?”
Ignoring Emmett’s confused look Burnside took up the dice cup and rattled it. Then he jumped when a hand emerged from the curtain and waggled a finger at him before disappearing. Sharp eared Adira had realized he’d cut an interesting conversation short. Oh dear. He’d hear about that in the morning.
Before Burnside could get the conversation going again Emmett continued.
Of course, Old Roaring Bill died at sea. He was buried at sea, as well. Now that was one I expected the sea to give up right quick, rather than have him contaminating the slimy depths. But we sent him over the side with enough chains to see him to the bottom.”
He was a slimy son of a bitch, and no mistake,” said Burnside, agreeably.
Did I ever tell you that I suspected him of an involvement in the slave trade?”
That brought Burnside up in his seat.
Do you tell me so? Before or after1807?”
After.”
Illegal slave trade then,” growled Burnside. “Why do you say so?”
One time he brought a mulatto woman aboard claiming she had paid passage but she fought him all the way aboard and spent most of her time locked in his cabin. There was little enough we could do about it until one night we heard screaming from both of them and the woman came out of his cabin naked and covered in blood. Bill’s blood.”
She stabbed him?” cried Burnside, shocked and also to cover the gasp of outrage from behind the curtain.
Nothing fatal, obviously. A slice across the ribs that the ship’s cook stitched closed well enough. I had to hide the woman. Roaring Bill was fit to throw her overboard. Getting things calmed down took diplomacy I did not know I possessed. She slept in the ship’s galley for the remainder of her time aboard. Eventually when we next made port he took her ashore, claiming it was her destination, and we didn’t see her again.”
Well,” said Burnside. “One woman does not slave trade make.”
We took a Portuguese ship as a prize, once, with a cargo of slaves. Instead of stopping at one of the British ports Roaring Bill took us to a cove and unloaded the slaves via the skips. He said he was setting them free in a manner not requiring reports and records. Next time I was officer of the watch I looked in the ship’s log for a record of the Man-o-war’s capture and found no record of the slaves.”
Dear God, are you certain? That is dangerous and illegal!”
Oh, I’d swear to it. But, by the time we got to a higher authority, Roaring Bill was dead and the authorities said it would serve no point to disparage his memory.”
Sadly true. They’d go to any length to maintain their reputation and Bill would not be the first, nor the last, captain to supply his own estates, or fill his own pockets, with money from sale of slaves. And it wasn’t as if he was still around to pay his fines.”
True enough. Your move, old man.”
Burnside blinked, suddenly realizing the game had been in progress for some time and he was in a poor position, a consequence of his inattention.
Emmett began discussing some other matter and Burnside winced when that little hand emerged between the curtains again. Adira’s tiny nose followed it.
Woman slave,” she hissed and gave a go-along gesture. Burnside pulled the curtain over her face.
Captain?” said Emmett.
Chill breeze.”
Perhaps the window is open.” Emmett rose. “I shall check.”
No need, no need,” said Burnside, hastily waving Emmett back to his seat. “I am certain they are closed. As long as the curtain is settled properly there will be no more breezes.”
Very well.”

Behind the curtain Adira was significantly chilled all along one side, where she pressed against the window glass, and dusty from the curtain on the other. She leaned back against the chill window panes and frowned. It made no difference to the victim of her displeasure. Burnside could not see her scowling at him but he would feel the sharp edge of her tongue soon enough. How could he ignore the most interesting part of the story, and to let Captain Farrah wander off into reminiscence on whether or not slaves were freed?
What about that woman? Who was she? Where did she come from? What did she look like? Had Captain Farrah, or Sir Emmett as she should now address him, risked his career, his life, to save her? Had she rewarded him?
Impossible men. How could they not discourse upon important, romantically interesting subjects?
That information from Sir Emmett about wanting a love at first sight was interesting, although the manner of his inspiration had not been adequately explained. Women reading books, indeed! Unless the girl doing the reading was a dazzling beauty his ambition made no sense.
She would think about it before including the tale in her book.
Well, she couldn’t really be cross with Uncle Burnside. He might know all about blood and bone, but he did not have a young lady’s sensibility. She would gently guide him so that next week’s backgammon evening would be more useful. She was too far in his debt for the home, the encouragement, the peace and quiet necessary for writing, for the year of rest and privacy for mourning to turn scold over one evening.
But it would help a great deal if he would keep his guest talking about interesting things and not changing the subject to dull ones.
Women slaves aboard a ship of the line? How interesting. Women slaves who stabbed ship’s captains who were attempting to ravish them? Most interesting! Backgammon was not! Far more interesting than backgammon!

*1 1807, 25 March: Abolition of the Slave Trade Act abolishes slave trading in British Empire. Captains fined £120 per slave transported.

Monday, September 25, 2017

uncle burnside 16

Well, I am certain that you gentlemen no longer require my presence,” said Adira setting down her glass.
We would be happier with your presence,” Emmett assured her.
Adira gave them both a stiff curtsy.
I can see that I am inhibiting your conversation. No. No, Uncle. I am entirely well and have other matters to attend to. Why don’t you go to the study for your game while I retire for the night?”
She came halfway to her feet and stopped when a pin stabbed her hard under her arm. She clamped her arm close to her body, relieving that pressure and bringing the one in the middle of her back. She refused to look up, sideways or to either side even while her blush deepened and spread.
Drawing herself as upright as she could she hurried from the room. Hopefully Burnside would keep Sir Emmett in place long enough for her to relieve the discomfort and hide behind the curtain.

Not that it isn’t very amusing, Burnside, but what was that performance about?”
Burnside took a cigar out of the humidor and rolled it between his fingers, ignoring Henry who stood ready to light it at his employer’s signal.
Burnside?” called Emmett when time passed and his host appeared paralyzed.
What?”
Miss Adira,” said Emmett. “Her odd behavior at dinner. Surely you noticed. Jumping about. Going to speak and then halting, her mouth still open. She must have lived a retiring life before coming to you if this is her company behavior.”
A small village far to the North of here,” said Burnside. “We have not had company while she’d been here. Poor girl has lost some of her social skills, obviously. I have done her no good service, living as retired as I do.”
I think you have the right of it, Burnside. The girl has no experience with appearing in public if even a small dinner can overset her and destroy her conversation. I hope you are not planning on presenting her to the Ton. They would eat her alive.”
The Ton? Certainly not. I have more respect for Adira than that. No.” Burnside considered before adding. “I wanted to … you both to become comfortable with each other so that when we tell her about the plan that you should show her about town, well, that she would like the idea.”
Emmett laughed. “Burnside, in case you have forgotten, Miss Adira and I have known each other the year she has been here. I have come by each week to sit by your fire. You may safely assume we are already acquainted and comfortable enough, under ordinary circumstances.”
Hmmm. Well, before we go into the study, did you submit your request for a copy of the Will?”
Now that was the odd thing. I sent a note around to my grandfather’s attorney this morning. This afternoon I received an answer. The scoundrel refused.”
Refused? How did he justify it?”
That it was a requirement of the Will. A stipulation set down by my grandfather.”
Oh, clever,” said Burnside. “You cannot defend yourself against the terms of a Will because the Will itself refuses to let you know the extent of the danger it represents.”
Chilling.”
And illegal,” said Burnside, sipping his drink slowly. “Send again and explain the illegality of that stipulation. Send your man of business if necessary and be certain to instruct your man to stay and observe the copy being made.”
Why, exactly?”
So that all the codicils and addendum are included. Have him examine the documents to be certain there are no missed lines or clauses. Clumsiness will not be tolerated in this case.”
Emmett frowned. “Do you think there is something hidden I need to worry about?”
Emmett, my lad. I am a retired attorney, son of an attorney, grandson of an attorney. Of course I think something is hidden you have to worry about. No Will is without its complexities, its slights, its vicious insults from beyond the grave. As well as its ambiguous phrases, contradictions and legal failings.”
There are those, in my grandfather’s will,” said Emmett. “Marriage to a woman pure, plain and pious? What a joke. And all so that my repulsive family can inherit what is denied to me. Nothing for me except a lifetime with a horror with a pasty prune faced woman with no sense of humor. Good God. All sensibilities revolt.”
If the attorney still gives you trouble ,tell them that I shall come calling personally and if they drag me out of this house with my bad foot, they will regret it.”
Emmett laughed. “That should shift them.”
Burnside rose carefully. “Come along then, Lad. Let’s see if you’ve learned anything of the game since last week.”
Who defeated whom last week, old man?” said Emmett, clenching his cigar between his teeth and followed along pausing only to catch up the decanter of port as he passed.
Soon enough they were seated beside the backgammon table and setting out the pieces in companionable silence – until Uncle Burnside remembered Adira’s request. And her current location.
With a swift glance toward the curtain he cleared his throat and found himself entirely at a loss for words. He hadn’t been a young man for quite a few years and then there was the reason for Adira’s curiosity. What would a villain and his cohort discuss? Or a hero and a friend?
Or, two friendly men sitting at a fireside with nothing to do.
What have you been up to this last week,” ventured Uncle Burnside.
Exploring London and enjoying her many beauties.”
There have been some remarkable new buildings put up of late,” said Burnside.
Emmett laughed. “You are getting old, my friend, if you think that was what caught my eye.”
Oh. Yes, the young ladies. We do have them hereabouts. But I thought there were young ladies the world over.”
None like our traditional English roses.”
Ah, I see. And has a young lady caught your eye?”
I have no intentions toward the marriage state, Burnside. You know that.”
There are more women in the world than the marrying kind.”
Dear heavens, Burnside! Are you suggesting I set up a mistress as a method of defeating my family?”
Not in the least.”
Emmett settled back and drew hard on his cigar.
I suppose I should be thinking about marriage. After all, I do have the money to support a family and then there is that estate I picked up for a song after that idiot in Martinique lost his entire fortune at the table. Could be time to think about it but strangely enough, I can’t find myself willing to make an effort. Not at present.”
Lazy,” scolded Burnside, mildly.
No. Not laziness. I … what is it when you are waiting for a … a muse to strike.”
You equate marriage to painting? To music? To the arts?”
Not exactly. Yes. To be honest, yes! I want to be struck by a … by inspiration. I want lightening to strike.”
Good god,” cried Burnside. “You want love at first sight?”
Emmett flinched, then let out a self-conscious laugh.
What if I do? What is wrong with that?”
Well,” Burnside rubbed at the side of his nose and considered how to phrase his reply. “Generally one doesn’t hear about love at first sight outside of dreadful novels.”
There was a muffled sound from behind the curtain and Burnside coughed loudly to cover it.
Not dreadful novels, I beg you. Have some respect. Romantic novels,” corrected Emmett. “And don’t you dare laugh.”
It took a few moments for Burnside to formulate a response.
When did this idea strike you as wise? Oh no. Don’t tell me. I fear the answer.”
Actually, it is a funny story.”
Burnside considered warning Emmett that any funny story he told might end up in Adira’s own novel, then smiled and let the story unfold.
Along back when I was a lieutenant on the Jeremiah, we had the wife, and all three of the daughters of Admiral Wallace aboard for months – at least that is how it seemed – and the women, having been warned that there is nothing to do on board a ship for weeks at a time, wisely brought with them an extensive library.”
The Jeremiah…. Wasn’t that when Roaring Bill Patterson was the captain?”
Oh, yes. Roaring Bill was the one who didn’t believe that any book beyond the bible was necessary. You can imagine how popular the ladies were when they started reading to each other on the deck of an afternoon. By God, the deck has never been so thoroughly scrubbed with all those sailors needing an excuse to be above deck. Good solid romances they had, describing goings on. Romances, kissing, and dreams, and the like. All very interesting to young ladies and read in their light pleasing voices, interesting to men far from home and family.”
I don’t see Roaring Bill permitting that,” said Burnside. “No. That wouldn’t please him!”
There was another noise from behind the curtain that could be a laugh, or a sneeze. Burnside couldn’t be certain but it reminded him quite suddenly that they had an audience.
Could hardly say no, could he?” continued Emmett, with a laugh. “Not to the wife of an admiral, and when he did try to discourage it, or suggest the crew should stay below decks, why we had he nearest thing to a mutiny that I ever hope to live through.”
No!” cried Burnside. “I heard nothing of a mutiny.”
Because I jumped in before anyone could use that dreaded word and spoke quietly to the leader of the delegation representing the crew who were demanding the resumption of the readings.”
Roaring Bill didn’t negotiate. That I know!”
Oh, no,” Emmett grinned. “Stubborn arse. He’d’ve hung that lot of them, singing hymns throughout and praised God for the opportunity, given half the chance and left us stranded in the middle of the Atlantic with no crew. But I managed to convince him that since the crew were gathering to listen to the ladies, they’d listen to him as well. I knew which book he would chose. Of course, given that it was Roaring Bill he wasn’t content to a short reading from the bible. Not he. He insisted on a full sermon, with those tracts from the bible that Roaring Bill thought appropriate, prior to the young ladies doing their readings, and roared condemnation first, last and between.”
Burnside laughed. “That must have gone down well. There are some passages in the bible that don’t bear close examination in the presence of young ladies.”


Friday, September 22, 2017

uncle burnside 15

Nevertheless Captain Farrah smiled and bowed at her before handing his hat and gloves to Henry.
Good evening, Miss Cooper. Are you to dine with us tonight? Excellent, now I shall be guaranteed intelligent conversation.”
Uncle Burnside looks forward to your visits for the same reason,” said Adira with a careful curtsy. “Shall we join him in the study?”
Henry cleared his throat.
What is it, Henry?” said Adira, suddenly realizing she didn’t know who to thank for her new dress but fearing it was Henry. Uncle Burnside, with his gouty foot was unlikely have gone out shopping.
Sir Burnside is in the drawing room, Miss.”
He hates that room,” said Adira, without thinking.
Captain Farrah chuckled.
Well, he does,” continued Adira. “He says the cabbage roses on the walls make his hay fever act up.”
I don’t doubt it,” said Captain Farrah, extending his elbow toward Adira. “As I understand it,” he said as they walked down the corridor. “Tonight’s dinner is to celebrate your emerging from your mourning.”
Adira laid her hand very lightly across the proffered arm and hoped that the dim light in the hall would cover her blush.
I didn’t know, that is, I don’t think that is something to celebrate.”
Take your celebrations where you shall find them,” said Captain Farrah, philosophically. “May I say that this color green flatters you greatly.”
I think the flattery here is coming from you,” said Adira. “And entirely unnecessary.”
Oh, no. All young women should be flattered whenever the opportunity arises.”
Oh, do you think so?” said Adira, slanting him a questioning glance. “And the ladies of your acquaintance do not think you insincere?”
Oh, wounded,” Captain Farrah pressed a hand to his chest just as Henry slipped by to open the door.
Sir Emmett, Captain Farrah,” announced Henry. “Miss Adira Cooper.”
Dear God, Henry. I know who it is. If anyone else turned up it would be an occasion for formality.” Uncle Burnside waved his walking stick, as if the two new arrivals could not see him where he was seated in the most comfortable chair near the fire. “Get in both of you.”
Uncle,” Adira approached first, grateful for a reason to drop the captain’s arm, and curtsied. Normally she would not be so formal with him but with all the pins it was not safe to bend over.
Thank you for the dress,” she whispered while she straightened the lap rug spread over the old man’s outstretched leg.
He patted her hand.
You do look well in it,” he whispered back before raising his voice. “Adira is in good looks today, is she not?”
Miss Cooper is always in good looks,” said Captain Farrah.
The captain has already made his opinion known,” said Adira going to take a seat on a very straight back chair.
Oh ho? Well now.” The reply seemed to please Uncle Burnside. “Henry, fetch us some drinks and not of that insipid raffia or orgret for Adira. Foul stuff. Not fit for pigs to drink.”
Sherry, Miss,” said Henry, bowing and offering her a tray already bearing a larger than usual glass of sweet sherry.
Adira smiled and accepted it, then similar glasses were taken to the gentlemen.
Did you enjoy your excursion the other afternoon?” inquired the Captain. “To the park,” he added when Adira seemed confused by the question.
Yes. Indeed. I just wanted some fresh air.”
Adira drew a deep breath to ask some polite drawing room question of the captain and one of the pins reminded her of its presence and the moment passed. The two gentlemen settled in to talk of the latest from the war until Henry summoned them to dine.
Adira entered the dining room on Captain Farrah’s arm while Uncle Burnside led the way escorted by his ever-present walking stick. Since there were only three of them at table Adira had forgone elaborate centerpieces and formal arrangements of chairs and place cards. Instead Uncle Burnside took his place at the head of the table and Captain Farrah and Adira sat to either side.
Adira was thankful that it was a footman aiding her to her seat. If it had been Captain Farrah standing behind her, wondering why she was taking so long she might not have been able to pass off the delay as checking out the table arrangements.
She had no reason to be ashamed of the food. The cook had exercised herself in the creation of impressive removes to set against the country simplicity of the presentation of the lamb. The wines were not excessively consumed and conversation, mild, innocuous, and completely appropriate for the delicate ears of a young lady, flowed.
When the dessert had been admired and consumed, Adira braced her hands on the table, preparatory to lifting herself up and retiring from the chamber. Captain Farrah waved her back to her seat.
It occurs to me if we let you leave, my dear Miss Cooper, you will be alone in the sitting room. Stay a while and take brandy with us. Or port, if that is to your taste.”
And when, exactly, did you think I had sampled enough port or brandy to have a preference?” inquired Adira. “Surely I have heard that it is too strong a drink for a lady.”
Pears in port wine, with clotted cream,” said Captain Farrah, dreamily.
Brandy sauce drenched Christmas pudding,” added Burnside.
Since she’d had both treats in her life Adira found she could not further protest.
Port, if you please,” she said to Henry, who smirked as he poured the same amount for her as he did for the gentlemen even when she tried to draw the glass away.
When the decanter was placed at Burnside’s elbow and the first sip taken and savored, Adira remembered the prohibition on Port for gout. She considered making a comment but caught her uncle’s eye instead and fell silent. Henry appeared at her side at that moment with an open humidor and offered her the first selection of a cigar.
Adira looked up in time to catch Henry’s wink. She smiled and shook her head.
Thank you, Henry, but the meal was so fine tonight I feel no need for a cigar.”
Captain Farrah barely smothered his laugh.
Another time, perhaps,” said Henry and stalked around the table.
Both of the men refused as well.
Adira regarded Captain Farrah thoughtfully and something Henry had said several times during the course of the meal penetrated much in the same manner as her many pins - with a sharp pinch and outcry.
Oh. Captain, has something of import occurred?” said Adira. Burnside and the captain exchanged a glance. “Only, Henry has referred to you as Sir several times this eve.”
Uncle Burnside raised his head. “What is this? I meant to ask you before. I thought you said you would decline your grandfather’s honors.”
Emmett scowled at his glass. “I thought about it. Only I heard that my cousin had petitioned for it to descend through his family line instead and … well, it was easier to accept.”
Well, congratulations.” Uncle Burnside raised his glass. “There are few enough knighthoods that are inheritable. So, congratulations, lad, we are equals now.”
I should never count myself your equal, Burnside.”
Burnside levered himself to his feet and raised his glass. Adira rose as well. “A toast. A toast to Sir Emmett.”
Sir Emmett,” repeated Adira. “Congratulations.”
Thank you both,” Emmett bowed without rising from his seat. “From you I know it to be sincere.”

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

uncle burnside 14

First she would enjoy sitting down to dinner with her uncle and his interesting friend and listen to their conversation. She considered, and dismissed, the idea of taking a notebook to the table. She would have to remember her reactions to the conversation. Hiding behind the curtain was not something she could do with a lantern or candle, or risk embarrassing discovery therefore she would have no opportunity to record their words until she regained her chamber. Hopefully her memory would be up to the task.
Miss?” called Molly. “You ready?”
Almost.” Adira wiggled into a fresh chemise and hurried out into her chamber. Molly laced her into her stays then lifted the dress over Adira’s head and pulled it down carefully. It was barely half-way down when Adira shouted as a pin dug into her shoulder.
Oh, yes. Mind the pins, miss.”
How?” squeaked Adira as one scratched her scalp and another pressed into the flesh on the inside of her arm. “They are everywhere!”
Easier to hide them if’n you put them into the seams on the inside.”
But what if they scratch me?” cried Adira as she was freed from one pin in time to be impaled by another. “What if I bleed all over the dress?”
Don’t,” said the maid. “Blood’s the very devil to get outta silk.”
A lot of careful tugging and some unladylike swearing later Adira was standing, rigid, before her glass. With each breath the hidden pins dug into her skin.
I can’t go down like this,” cried, or rather, whispered Adira. “I cannot breathe let alone eat.”
Oh, proper ladies don’t eat much,” said Molly with great confidence given she’d never been in arm’s reach of a proper lady in her life. “An’ you won’t be dancing, so sitting is easy enough once you’re down.”
Adira rolled her eyes and shifted a little within the dress trying to find a point at which none of the pin points were digging into her.
Got good posture, you,” Molly assured her, placing another pin next to the small row of buttons that held up her tiny bodice.
Adira winced. She had no choice but to have good posture tonight. She took another breath and considered asking for the last pin to be removed except that with that last pin in place the bodice finally stayed close to the skin of her bosom rather than gaping forward exposing the lace on the edge of her stays.
This will do,” said Adira, moving her arms and hands as if reaching for a fork or a wine glass. “I will just have to be careful. And, Molly, if you will, please wait up for me tonight or I shan’t be able to undress.”
I’ll be right here,” said Molly, settling herself comfortably into her chair and placing her work basket to serve as a footstool. “Nowhere else ta go.”
Adira made her very cautious way down the stairs. The door knocker sounded as she descended and Henry emerged from the servant’s stairs.
Oh, Henry,” hissed Adira. “Please wait until I’m down before opening the door.”
Sir Burnside asks that I answer the door promptly,” replied Henry swinging the door open.
Before Adira could curse Captain Farrah was framed in the doorway in time to see her stalk down the main stairs. She forced a smile on her face even though she knew that the man would assume she had timed her descent to match his arrival when the fact was, she hated such contrived moments.

Monday, September 18, 2017

uncle burnside 13

The lamb, tender and in excellent condition, arrived in good time to be seasoned and set into the oven. The cook and her helper created removes and baked desserts suitable to the chill of the evening and soon delicious aromas filled the house.
Just in time to remind Burnside to send a note along to Emmett with the planned invitation. Burnside spent some time worried that Emmett might not be available that evening which would have wasted Adira’s and the cook’s efforts but an acceptance arrived, relieving his mind.
Which left Burnside with plenty of time to decide what he should do about Emmett’s problem. Drafting a letter meant referring to his legal texts. He would consult with one or two of his old cronies to be certain, but for now he had a generally worded statement of intent to remain unmarried just in case Emmett’s family acted precipitously.
As for Adira, an express had already been sent to Lord Benton with inquires on Adira’s behalf. Leaving him to decide how to explain to Emmett Adira’s presence behind a curtain in order to hear them both swear without giving both of them a case of the giggles.
It wouldn’t work. Emmett was a gentleman through and through. He would moderate his speech without even thinking about it and be worse that useless, for Adira’s purposes.
There was nothing for it. He would have to keep it a secret from Emmett. Adira could listen to her heart’s content and likely what she could hear would be more realistic when the scene inevitably found its way into her book.
Grinning to himself Burnside rose to go to his chambers and dress. Halfway up the stairs he met Henry on his way down. Henry nodded and pressed a fingertip to the side of his nose.
Excellent. Another task well attended to.

Adira hurried up the servant’s stairs paradoxically grateful that she had permission to use them. Previously the maids had looked sideways at her for using their personal shortcut through the house but now, as acknowledged housekeeper, Adira had authority over them as well as being one of them.
She pushed her hair back off her forehead with her wrist. The steam from the kitchen curled her hair quite aggressively and she was hoping she’d have enough time to settle the brown mass into a respectable hairstyle before she had to descend to give the table setting one last going over. She hugged a heavy jug of warm water to her chest as she maneuvered through the hidden door and down the last stretch of corridor to her chamber.
Evening, Miss.”
Adira let out a short shriek and fell back against the door before she recovered herself.
Molly, what are you doing here?”
Gettin’ you ready for dinnah, Miss. Ahm your maid tannight!”
I don’t need help,” said Adira. “I have managed very well since I arrived without a maid.”
Oh, tosh, Miss. Mourning dresses dun’ need a shine or fancy do. But now youse commin’ out again you need summun ta help wit’ da laces an’ all.”
Laces? All my dresses are simple things…” began Adira and then Molly stepped aside and Adira was stuck dumb.
In’t pretty?”
Adira nodded. Speech was temporarily beyond her abilities. Spread across her bed was a glowing silk dinner gown. Not the simple white gown appropriate for gently bred maiden but a shade of pale green that appeared and disappeared as the candle light struck it. Adira stepped to the side and tilted her head.
What is it with green?” said Adira. “My bolt of cloth was green. The curtains about my bed are green.”
“‘Tis Sir Burnside’s favorite color,” said Molly.
Well, it is a good thing I like green myself,” said Adira. “I shall have to remember to pay him back out of my salary.”
Molly gave that foolish statement the lack of respect it deserved and ignored it.
Well then. We have time for you to have a wash-up right quick,” ordered Molly. “We have to pin you in.”
Pin? Oh, yes.”
That was the sad truth. Since she hadn’t chosen this dress, been measured for it and had it made over to fit she was going to have to take her chances that it was close enough to look well on her - and submit to going down to dinner pinned, not sewn.
Well, Molly, I hope you’ve got some pins for I have not.”
Molly held up her arm. On her wrist was a well-supplied dressmaker’s pillow of pins. Before Adira could protest she was stripped out of her damp and stained gown and the new gown lowered over her head. As soon as the generous folds of fabric settled about her Adira’s smile faded.
Oh, heavens, this will never do,” cried Adira. “I shall have to wear my old gown.”
The dress, though made of fine fabric and fashionable style, was not complete. The hem sagged unevenly as no attempt had been made to set it to a particular length. The bodice gapped as the dress was obviously intended for a lady of more significant bosom. Adira huffed out a breath.
No, there is too much to do,” she sighed. “I shall wear my wool mourning gown one more time and – ”
Oh, no, Miss. I’ve plenty of practice pinning.” Molly walked around Adira, pulling at loose fabric here, checking a seem there. “An’ hemmin’ will take no more time than a bath.”
Molly dropped to her knees and quickly pinned up a hem. Then swept the dress up and over Adira’s head.
You go ahead, get cleaned up, Miss and we’ll have you ready in a trice.”
So saying Molly settled herself on the only chair in the room and pulled out her work basket. Adira watched for a moment. A simple running stitch hem would take no time at all, just as Molly said, and they would have plenty of time to do a better job before the next time Adira had reason to use the dress. Unless it was to go back to the shop, in which case the least amount of damage they did would be best.
She dashed into her dressing chamber and stripped to her chemesette. Pouring out the water she picked up the very battered sponge and sliver of plain soap. All this last year she’d made do with a few pennies worth of soap. The simplest and plainest of undergarments. The least amount of the necessities of life – and none, absolutely none – of the luxuries. And now she had, hidden in a sock tucked between the feather ticking of the bed and the rope slung frame, a fortune. A veritable fortune.
And if she stayed here, working for Uncle Burnside, there would be more. Every quarter day there would be more.
She let out a slow breath as she performed a rapid ablution. If she was allowed to stay here, that was.
She remembered quite well her father referring to Aunt Clara as a force of nature. As unwelcome as a biting winter storm and leaving as much devastation behind.
Now she thought on it, it was unlikely, given the degree that her father disliked Aunt Clara that he would have given Adira into her custody after his death.
Then why had she come? Why had she been notified of the death? Adira had not written. She ad been so caught in her own grief that she’d not left her room except to attend the service that had been read by the curate from the next village.
All that was moot now. Of course she would have had to leave the vicarage when the new occupant arrived, and she would have had to go to someone to live, and it wasn’t as if the family was oversupplied with relatives. She had only distant connections like Clara and Uncle Burnside, really, and even Uncle Burnside hesitated to offend Aunt Clara.
Being a well brought up and polite girl she knew she should notify Aunt Clara that she was going to stay in London and decline the oh-so-kind offer of further unpaid employment, and being that she was not an idiot, and not wanting to go deaf this early in life, she wasn’t going to bring that particular storm down onto herself until necessary.
Thursday evening, therefore, was soon enough to notify her aunt.

Friday, September 15, 2017

uncle burnside 12

Henry scowled and nodded.
What did she mean, you didn’t own the furniture and plate?” said Henry. “Surely there is no reason to assume such a thing.”
I always thought it was ours.”
Let me look into the matter,” said Burnside drawing a small corner of vellum close. “Give me this Lord Benton’s direction and I shall write and inquire. I think, also, it would be as well to ask who your father’s attorney was. It seems strange to me that no reading of the Will was done in your presence, and, while I am at it, I shall inquire as to what became of your poor dogs.”
Oh, Uncle, thank you!”
In the meantime, I think you should go upstairs and wash your face. When you come down we shall have a proper tea.”

The next afternoon over a late nuncheon Uncle Burnside put his tea aside and smiled at his niece.
Have you put pen to paper since when last we spoke?”
Yes, indeed. Last night, before bed, and this morning, after speaking to Cook.”
Excellent. Read to me what you have.”
Well,” Adira glanced over her shoulder to where Henry stood pretending that by standing there he was doing something significant in the service of tea. “I have done what you suggested and described the house.”
Oh, good. Do tell.”
Adira coughed and assumed her best reading-to-an-invalid voice learned at her mother’s knee.
Entering the square was a shock after the rest of dreary, filthy London. The houses of …… square were neat, near military in their immaculate stonework, swept bare pavemen,t and precisely centered, identical doorways. This small, newly-built square was perfect, from the intervals between the chimneys to the arrangement of the paving stones. No one would imagine anything untidy and unclean contaminating this square. The streets were as clean as the dark, shadowed, staring window-glass and the well-polished door knockers.
The girl standing, watching, was not perfect. She could not imagine any one of these houses welcoming her, not with her patched gloves and down-at-heels boots. She did not belong here and yet here was where she would seek… what was hidden.
Uncle Burnside and Henry burst into warm, spontaneous applause. Adira blushed and looked down until Henry coughed to catch her attention. Once she looked across at him he deliberately straightened his back and pushed up his pointed chin. Adira imitated him, receiving an approving grin from Uncle Burnside.
Good girl. Excellent. Excellent. I am very proud of you. Already you have turned our quiet corner of London into a place worthy of chills up the spine.”
Thank you.” Adira rose and gave a curtsy before returning to her seat.
Burnside held out his cup for more tea. Henry obliged before Adira could move.
I was wondering, Uncle, if you could tell me something that will make creating my hero and villain easier.”
What is that, my Dear?”
Men. How do men talk to each other? I know there are certain words they are not supposed to use lest the delicate ears of young ladies should turn to ash and the gentlemen find themselves up on indecency charges. Therefore I am curious. Obviously at some point my hero and villain must confront each other and I was wondering how they would speak.”
Henry made a noise that might be a cough but more likely to have been a laugh.
You do have a point, Adira,” said Burnside. “Let me see. How to explain?”
If I might make a suggestion, Sir?” said Henry.
Well?”
Might Miss Adira listen when Sir Captain Emmett Farrah next visits? He and you together might indulge in a small sampling of the salty language for which sailors are so rightly famous.”
For heaven’s sake, Henry, pick one title and stick to it. He is either a Sir or a Captain, but not both. You know the proper use of titles as well as I do.”
Henry smirked.
Burnside glared at Henry. “I never know if you are making mock or not!”
I live to serve,” said Henry, which wasn’t an answer.
Adira hid her grin behind her teacup. Uncle Burnside wouldn’t let anyone know his Christian name so no one could address him with proper consideration for his knighthood. Henry wasn’t mocking Captain Farrah, he was mocking his employer.
I think that would do well, for a start, for you take supper with us,” said Burnside slowly. “But Captain Farrah will moderate his language out of respect for your sensibilities. Therefore it would be best if he doesn’t know you are present.”
How shall I do that? Listen at the door?”
Hide behind the curtain,” suggested Henry, pointing toward the front of the house and the curtains currently standing open to let in the late afternoon light. “The window is bowed out a little nearest to the fireplace so there is plenty of room to stand.”
It is not his day for Backgammon,” said Burnside. “But I have some private matters to discuss with him. I shall invite him to dine, for once, and you shall sit with us Adira. When you retire for the night, come here and hide instead. I shall address the private matters with Captain Farrah in the dining room and then we shall come here to drink excessive amounts of brandy and swear in an unrestrained manner.”
That sounds delightful,” said Adira. “Have you any special requests for dinner?”
Anything that isn’t potted beef, hard tack or watered rum, my dear, shall do us very well. Oh, bother, I have just remembered. All your evening attire is in mourning colors. It is time for you to have another made up.”
Oh, heavens! But there isn’t time.”
Perhaps it is time for you to spend a little of your salary?” suggested Uncle Burnside.
Adira jumped up and prepared to run from the room, then came to a halt. “I don’t know where to go.”
Henry, make yourself useful,” said Burnside with a wave of his hand. “Have that carriage of mine unearthed and find a horse or two. Miss Adira is going to Bond Street.”
But I can’t go out. Not if Captain Farrah is coming. I must speak to the cook about the menu and see to the preparations of the dining room. You haven’t used to formal room for several months and – ”
Enough. Don’t fuss so. Emmett will be happy with anything.”
If I am to be paid to be your housekeeper, Captain Sir Burnside, I should do the work,” said Adira, drawing herself up to her full height. “Or shall I give back your money.”
Keep the money, Miss,” said Henry, mildly. “And remember, the housekeeper doesn’t do the work herself. She gives orders. We have staff enough to polish the woodwork and throw back the Holland covers and they took their direction from me before you came. I do recall how it was done.”
Very well. Henry,” said Adira, fixing him with a glare. “I require that you look to the silver. It was most shamefully tarnished when last I examined it. We don’t want to present a shoddy appearance to Captain Sir Burnside’s first dinner guest since I’ve lived here.”
Yes, Miss Adira,” said Henry with a bow.
And I shall see the cook,” contined Adira. ‘Tis a good season for lamb. I shall send the footman to inquire. We might trust the cook to find a good receipt.”
Thank you, Miss Adira,” said Burnside with all the appearance of meekness. Once Adira had quit the room Burnside and Henry exchanged a glance.
I’m an expert on lamb, as well,” said Henry, with a grin.
Burnside laughed. “And butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth, so innocent is your heart.”
Henry inclined his head, but not fast enough to hide the wicked gleam in his eye.
Then away you go,” said Burnside. “The footman can polish silver well enough.”
Henry saluted and departed.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

uncle burnside 11

But I cannot. I owe her too much. And she won’t let me get away with it.”
Excuses!” cried Henry. “You are being cowardly. What sort of heroine is cowardly?”
Burnside took another tack.
Do you owe her daughters enough to send the rest of your life serving them and their endless flow of children?” he demanded.
Adira recoiled. “What a horrible thought.”
But that will be your fate if you do not resist,” pressed Burnside.
But, Uncle, truly, while a heroine in a book might turn away from safety it is very different to do it in real life. Book characters do not feel the cold and do not truly starve. I am very fond of sleeping indoors and eating on a regular basis.”
Granted.” Uncle Burnside pointed at the pile of coins on the escritoire beside her. “There is your salary.”
But I don’t work for you,” said Adira. “Not really. I am … I help out. Run errands that, truthfully, someone else could do just as well. Aunt Clara put me here until she had another use for me.”
Nonsense, Adira. That might have been Clara’s intention when you arrived. Putting you here so she did not have to trouble herself, but now you have been here a year I can’t imagine how we got along before you arrived.”
You didn’t hire me. I just arrived. Dumped on your doorstep.”
Whereupon you promptly became an invaluable member of the staff,” interrupted Henry. “The first morning you were here you set the kitchen to rights, gave the cook quite a piece of your mind, and we haven’t had burnt-on-one side-raw-on-the-other roast since.”
Well, anyone could do that.”
The next week you paid a call on the butcher and there was a significant improvement in the cuts we received,” continued Henry.
He was sending only gristle and charging us for prime.”
Exactly. Only the very best of housekeepers can win a battle with a butcher and still retain him as her supplier.” Henry grinned at her. “I could give any number of examples but it all comes to be, you have been working as our housekeeper, and all that without salary or consideration.”
Therefore,” declared Uncle Burnside, “I am putting it in my account book that you are to receive twenty pounds per quarter so that I do not forget again.” He smiled at Adira. “Do you know why I am doing this?”
Adira considered. “I have said before. You are very kind.”
Both Burnside and Henry groaned.
Dear heaven, girl,” said Henry. “No one gives away money for just to be kind. You have done the work, there is the pay.”
Henry, please,” said Burnside. “Adira, I am giving you a good day’s salary for a good day’s work so that you will feel, nay, you will know, you have another option beyond meekly going along with Clara’s plans for you. You do not have to leave. In fact, it is a far more sensible action for you to stay and I know you are a sensible young lady.”
That did not take as long to sink in and when it did Adira threw herself across the room and hugged the old man.
Oh, Uncle Burnside, I am so grateful! Thank you! Thank you. I would love to stay and work for you.”
Until you are a successful author,” added Henry.
That may take years, if at all,” said Adira.
That is excellent either way.” Burnside tucked his purse away.
Now, aren’t you happy you won’t have to dye your pretty dresses,” said Henry.
I am very happy.”
What shall you do when she sends over the dye?” inquired Uncle Burnside.
Keep it,” said Adira. “Dye is expensive and you never know when you might need some.”
Burnside and Henry chuckled.
I don’t think we shall cure her of being practical,” said Henry, and Burnside nodded.
True. Adira, a thought has just occurred to me. I have never asked. What happened when your father died? How is it you came to be in Clara’s hands?”
Happened? I hardly know.”
Was she declared your guardian in his Will? It is odd to me that he should put you in her hands. Was there no one else to serve?”
I….” Adira stared at Uncle Burnside. “I don’t know. As far as I can recall there was no reading of the Will. When father died Lord Benton, father’s patron, assured me that all would be well. He organized the funeral and everyone in the village was very kind. I expect it was he, or his wife, who wrote to Aunt Clara and told her I was alone. She arrived three days after the funeral.”
Kind, comforting and caring,” said Burnside. His lips twisted as he spoke.
Uh… no. In fact, she was bullying and mean.” Adira said in a wondering voice and made a note to herself to write that scene out. No doubt it would be useful.
Yes. That does not surprise me, she has been such since her birth. Now the question you must answer, as if your heroine is asking, why did you go along with her? Did she tell you she was now your guardian?”
I….” Adira stared at the two men who were staring at her. Finally she managed to close her mouth. “You know, until this moment it did not occur to me that I had a choice!”
Ah ha,” cried Burnside and Henry applauded, which only served to confuse Adira further.
Burnside beamed at her, and when Adira suddenly started to cry he gaped at her helplessly and waved to Henry for aid.
Miss Adira. Miss Adira. Please, dry your eyes.”
Adira sank into the selected chair and struggled to compose herself.
What has happened?” demanded Burnside.
I have just realized, I was such a… a… dishrag. Oh, how could I let her do that?”
Do what?”
Where are they? Oh, what did she do with them? I have never asked. In a whole year I did not ask.”
They who,” chorused her audience.
Where are they?” sobbed Adira. “When Aunt Clara came she told me to pack two valises. That she had no time for me to collect frivolities. That if I wasn’t ready to go it wasn’t her fault. And I didn’t even know she was coming. How could I prepare?”
Cruel!”
Adira did not know who spoke, she only knew it was the truth. Clara had been cruel. Abrupt. Uncaring. But most of all cruel!
Clara said I didn’t own anything so staying and packing had no point. All the furniture and the plate, everything I thought belonged to my father, to my parents and me, she said it all came with the vicarage. She made me leave it all behind.”
Oh, my dear. I am so sorry,” said Uncle Burnside.
Including my poor dogs.”
Dogs?” repeated the men.
I had two beautiful gentlemen dogs. Two Springer Spaniels. So friendly. So kind, and I don’t know if she even found them a new home. It might be she turned them out of the house. Sent them away thinking I abandoned them. Where could they be? The least she could have done was let me take them to a family I trusted but she said she did not have the time.”
That is beyond cruel,” growled Burnside, his fists clenching on the armrests