She turned her sharp little nose into the air. “If I lisped, Mr. Pancras would have taught me otherwise.”
“Why the hell didn’t you have a governess?” Will had always been peculiar, but it sounded as if marriage, or being widowed, had made him even more so.
“Papa believed that women added unnecessary complications to a household.”
She shook her head. “The kitchen maid helped me dress.”
“Where is Pancras? Or, to ask the same question another way, why did you arrive by special delivery, and why were you dirty and thin?”
“My father said that in the event of tribulation or strife, I was to be sent to you.” She stopped again.
“ ‘Tribulation’?” Thorn leaned back against the carriage seat. He was used to clever children. Hell, all six of his siblings could talk circles around most Oxford graduates. But it could be that Rose took the cake. “Do you know how to read?”
“Of course. I’ve been reading ever since I was born.”
He raised an eyebrow, and she stiffened.
“Where is Pancras?” he repeated. “Why did he not bring you himself, and why have you no belongings?”
“He couldn’t bring me. He had to take the first appointment that was offered to him, in Yorkshire. There was a delivery going from the brewery to London, and it cost much less for my fare than it would have on the mail coach. Plus my trunk went at no cost. I’m afraid that Papa had very little money when he died; Mr. Pancras said that he was a spendthrift.”
“Your father didn’t make enough money in the militia to permit extravagance,” Thorn told her, making a mental note to send another Bow Street Runner after Pancras and, when he’d been turned up, to send him on a boat to China, special delivery. “So you were sent along with the beer.”
Rose nodded. “The journey look longer than Mr. Pancras had thought it would.”
“What happened to your clothing?”
“When we reached your house, the driver left quickly, and he forgot about my trunk. It was strapped under the barrels. He was quite unkind and wouldn’t bring it down at night. I had to sleep in my dress.”
A second Runner to find Rose’s trunk. “How long was the journey?”
Thorn felt fury smoldering in his gut. “Three days? Where did you sleep?”
“The driver allowed me to sleep in the wagon,” she explained. “It wasn’t entirely proper, but I thought that Papa would tell me not to fuss. Did you know that when he was little, Papa occasionally slept outside, under the stars?”
Occasionally? He and Will had spent a couple of years sleeping in a church graveyard because their bloody-minded master wouldn’t let them inside except in the dead of winter. “I did.”
“He did not fuss, and neither did I,” said Rose, and up went that little nose again. “I don’t like to be unclean, and I didn’t care for the insects living in the straw. But I did not complain.”
“Or cry. At least,” she added, “until I reached your house, when I succumbed to exhaustion.”
“You succumbed?” Thorn took a deep breath. “When you first arrived this morning, you didn’t say a word. Do you know that I considered the idea that you might be unable to speak altogether?”
That won the very first smile he’d seen on her face.
“I talk too much,” she informed him. “That’s what Papa always says—said.” Her face crumpled, and smoothed over so quickly that he almost missed it.
“You might feel better if you cry.”
“I shall not, because it would make him feel sad, even in heaven.”
Thorn frowned, not at all sure how to untangle that.
“Besides, I needn’t cry. I am not alone and I don’t have to sleep under the stars. I have you in case of tribulation. I’m lucky,” she said stoutly. But a tear ran down her cheek.
“You’d better come over here,” he said, holding out an arm.
“Because this is a time of tribulation.”
They drove the rest of the way to a store called Noah’s Ark, Rose nestled under his arm. After a while, Thorn handed over his handkerchief.
The shop turned out to be a wonderful place, crammed with not only dolls but also toy boats, toy carriages with real wheels, and whole regiments of tin soldiers.
The owner, Mr. Hamley, surveyed the two of them and apparently recognized instantly that while Rose looked like a tattered little crow, Thorn planned to buy her whatever she wished. Consequently, he began treating Rose like one of the royal princesses.
As Hamley introduced Rose to the very best dolls to be found in all England (according to him), Thorn wandered away and discovered the wooden balls meant for playing croquet. He picked one up, tested its weight, tossed it from hand to hand. It would be interesting to try to make a rubber ball. It might even be possible to make it bounce. . . .
He was thinking about that when Rose came to fetch him. She had found the perfect doll, with real hair, bright blue eyes, and movable joints. “I shall call her Antigone,” Rose told him.
It seemed like an odd name to Thorn, but what did he know? He distinctly remembered that his sister Phoebe had a girl doll she named Fergus.
Twilight was falling by the time Rose selected an appropriate wardrobe for her new doll. Antigone had a morning dress for making calls, a velvet evening dress, and a riding habit with cunning tiny buttons running up the front in a double row. She had a soft woolen pelisse that was nearly the same green as Rose’s, a nightdress, and a little pile of undergarments that included knitted stockings as gossamer as cobwebs. Plus an umbrella.
“Perhaps a presentation gown?” Mr. Hamley asked. He opened a special box lined in white silk. Inside was a white gown that came with several ruffled petticoats and a set of hoops that would make Antigone absurdly wide. It was swagged in white lace and embroidered with tiny dangling pearls.
Rose gasped and reached out a finger to touch the satin. But she firmly shook her head. “It would be wasteful to own a gown that was worn only to meet the queen.”
Thorn crouched down and said, “Sweetheart, your father gave you to me because I have more money than I know what to do with. Do you think that Antigone would like to be presented to the queen?”
There were no more tears on the way home, and Rose happily danced away to introduce Antigone to Mrs. Stella and the upstairs maid, who would serve as nursemaid until they hired one.
The next morning in the carriage Rose said, with a distinct ring of defiance in her voice, “Antigone and I would have been perfectly happy spending the day with Fred. I dislike the country.”
In fact, Antigone did appear to be regarding Thorn with a very impertinent expression, but he merely said, “Until we find a governess, you will go wherever I go, and I need to pay a visit to Starberry Court.”
“I find it quite incomprehensible that I should accompany you. Children are to be seen and not heard. Everyone knows that.” Rose removed her doll’s pelisse, drew a tiny sheet of foolscap from her pocket, and propped it up on Antigone’s legs.
“What is she reading?” Thorn inquired.