“Adira?” came a familiar shout. “Miss Adira! Oh, thank God I found you.”
Adira let out the breath she was holding so fast that relief left her dizzy. Refusing to do anything so silly as to faint, or clutch at his arm in her relief Adira forced herself to face Sir Emmett and smile.
“Oh, Sir Emmett,” said Adira with affected calm. “How long you took.”
“I was so worried for you,” said Sir Emmett, his shoulder’s slumping. Then he snapped his fingers and the phaeton and Tiger who had been invisible until this moment appeared at the curb beside them. “I am so very, very sorry to have abandoned you for so long. My family was insistent. Nothing would do that I escort my cousin to an important meeting since he did not know the direction and then I had a dreadful time disentangling myself. I ran all the way back knowing that it was closing time. Now we must hurry or we won’t be home before it rains.”
He boosted her onto the seat then shook out the reins and sent them off down the crowded streets at a good clip. Adira refused to look back just in case that dreadful guard was leering after them.
It did start to rain just as they reached her home. It was more practical, and faster, for her to go with Sir Emmett into the mews and enter Uncle Burnside’s house through the kitchen door than require him to stop at the door and risk an unnecessary soaking. The Tiger took custody of the carriage as Sir Emmett escorted Adira to the door before running off into the rain to his own back door.
“Where have you been, Miss?” demanded Henry, coming to his feet as she entered. “Your uncle has been beside himself!”
“Sir Emmett came to take me to the museum,” said Adira, suddenly uncertain. “Hadn’t he approved it with Uncle Burnside? I am certain I left a message.”
The cook returned her attention to punching the next morning’s bread dough while around her tonight’s supper was being sliced and diced. Adira frowned. Why had the cook not passed the message on?
Henry sent a glare around the room then held out his hands for Adira’s saturated bonnet and pelisse, then he nodded his head toward the staircase leading upstairs.
“Your uncle was in a taking over the way Mrs. Devonham treated you. By the time he could get a word in and insist you be fetched back you were gone. Since you didn’t go out by the front door, and hear me little girl, you will do so in future, I couldn’t tell him where you’ve gone and what you were doing. I didn’t know myself until an hour after that shower of gossips departed.”
So the cook had given Henry the message, eventually!
“I’m sorry, Henry. I hope you didn’t get in trouble.”
“Me? You’re worried about me? We were worried about you for hours, and that Clara Devonham didn’t make matters any better insisting you were gone out to make a hole in the river! Or come to some other sort of bad end what happen to girls who don’t listen to their elder’s advice.”
“Your antecedents are showing, Henry,” said Adira.
Henry coughed and settled himself before knocking on the study door.
“Sir Burnside,” called Henry. “Miss Adira has returned.”
“Get in here, girl,” roared Uncle Burnside, raising his voice for the first time in their relationship.
Adira entered in a rush and came to a halt at his footstool. Burnside scanned her up and down and did not relax until he was convinced she was indeed present and unharmed.
“Alive and undrowned! Where have you been?” he demanded. “And why, in god’s name, did you leave? Don’t you know better than to back down from a bully?”
“I beg your pardon for disappearing, Uncle,” said Adira, folding her hands humbly and dropping her chin. “When Sir Emmett appeared with his invitation to the museum I thought you approved.”
“I do. I did, only not today! I didn’t know you were going today! I thought we had agreed to go later in the week!”
“I am very sorry, Uncle. I shall make sure to get your permission before any other outings.”
“Oh, heaven, sit down Adira, please.”
When she did so, despite the squelch from her damp skirt, he sighed. “You are the most amazing mix of obedient and subservient and an adventurous Miss. What am I to do with you? One moment you wilt away under the slightest criticism, the next you are writing stories about girls crawling over rooftops to burgle houses. Don’t blush, girl. I sent Molly up to see if you were in your room and she found your manuscript. It is coming along nicely!” He waved to where the pile of pages sat near at hand. “If it means anything to you, Adira, I like the adventurous one more.”
“Well.” Adira twisted her hands together. “It is good to know you approve, Uncle. It is a problem only because in general, and I use my aunt as an example, most people would not approve of my interests.”
Burnside sighed again and Henry, who had followed her in, cursed mildly.
“Now, listen to me, young lady,” continued Burnside. “While you are living in my house my rules apply. You know that? I am the head of the house and you should obey.”
“That is an odd thing to say when you have said on other occasions that you want me to do things not generally acceptable to society.”
“Be careful when you say that, Missy,” warned her uncle. “It might be misconstrued.”
Adira nodded, seriously confused.“Are you scolding me for doing what you have instructed, Sir?”
“Dear heaven, no. The fact is, Adira, you are interesting because you are different. There are boring men and boring women who spend their lives politely doing things they’d rather not. Heaven knows, I was one of them once upon a time. I joined the navy because my father, damn the man, insisted. He did not want me to follow him into the law. His ambition as a child was for the navy but his father imposed the law upon him. Proof, I suppose, that parents should not make decisions for the young. However, I was young, barely weaned, when I went aboard ship for the first time and had not the strongest back nor the strongest stomach in the world. A man less designed for naval life and war I could not hope to find.”
“I am sorry.”
“What for? You are not the one who sent me out and, bless you, I hope you never suffer as I did. But, and here is the part I want you to understand, I came under the hand of a sailor who saw my suffering and realized of all God’s creations, I was formed to be a attorney. I had a quick mind that learned written words faster than the whole crew together. And argue, I could argue the sun down and up again. I could convince a man with two good eyes that the sky above him was green and the ocean pink.”
“No doubt a very valuable skill for a attorney,” murmured Adira, and Henry laughed.
“This sailor, who had joined the navy as a preference to staying in debtor’s prison until he died, was a law clerk. He taught me all he could remember, and I sent home to my mother for books. As I worked my way up the ranks I studied all I could until Admiralty saw the wisdom of setting me ashore for a year to sit my exams and be presented to the bar.”
“Thank you. But the lesson here, you see, is that I did not settle for being an inferior sailor and I did not throw myself into the ocean as was suggested by an officer when I made the mistake of casting my accounts over his shoes. I was different and I made myself more so. I did not seek to be ordinary.”
“And you don’t want me to be ordinary, either.”
“Exactly so. Since you have the talent to write as well as the ambition, I am quite willing to support you.”
“That is kind.”
“No, my dear. Not kind. Never accuse me of being kind. If I were kind, I would scold and discourage and preach until you cast your dreams away. Then you would marry and have a skirtful of children and never set a foot wrong your entire life. And your foolish relatives would nod and congratulate themselves on your invisibility. What I am suggesting for you is difficult, and there will be times when you will wish that I had not encouraged you but, my Dear, there are far too few talented dreamers and a world full of ordinary clods. Therefore I would ask you to take the more difficult path, to dare and try to be different!”