"My apologies for that. The letter my clerk drew up somehow got shuffled in with other papers and was never posted. It was only recently discovered as I was making my preparations to travel here."
She bit her lip, stopping an inappropriate smile, for the irony of the situation could not be denied. Father—that stoic man who insisted on precision at all costs—was likely rolling in his grave over the misplacement of his death announcement. Truly, she should be weeping for the loss of him, but though she might try, no tears could be forced. Sweet heavens! Is this what she'd become—as callous towards him as he'd been to her and her brother?
Still, the information was so new. Grief would likely come calling in the dark of night when she least expected it. She met Mr. Walton's gaze. "This is very sudden. My father's health was never an issue, least-wise not that I was aware."
"Indeed, Miss Balfour. I worked with the man these past five years. Never a sniffle. Nary a cough. Though I suspect he felt this coming on."
He retrieved a folded paper. "The day before your father passed, I was summoned to Balfour House. He gave me this letter with the express directive that should anything happen to him, I was to personally deliver it to you. And so I am here. And so here you are." Mr. Walton held out the missive.
But Amelia didn't move, the temptation to live in blissful ignorance just a moment longer too strong to overcome. Her father had been domineering in life. Was he to be as officious in his death?
Duty called. As it always had a way of doing, knocking, rapping, pounding on the door of her heart. There was nothing to be done for it, then. Father wrote the letter. She must read it.
She pulled the paper from Mr. Walton's fingers, folded open the page, and gazed at the recognizable bold lines of her father's pen.
But a few grains of sand remain in the hourglass of my life.
Would that I could turn the hateful thing over, for never are regrets more poignant than during one's last breaths. Yet I will not trouble you with the requisite pleas for mercy and forgiveness. You are not heaven's gatekeeper.
Instead, I charge you with the guardianship of your brother, leastwise until the revolutionary surgery I have scheduled for him can be carried out. At such a point, you will be freed of all familial responsibilities if you so choose, for at last Colin will be able to face the world as his own man. I have arranged for him to arrive in Bristol by dark of night, June 8. My solicitor, Mr. Walton, will supply you with the appropriate details and means for your travel to Balfour House.
To avoid a case of too little, too late, I will not suffer you with trite words of apology or endearment. But rest assured, Amelia, that you have been, and I trust forever will be, the most obedient of daughters a man could ask for.
As always, your father, Grafton Balfour
Father? What a farce. Obedient? As ever.
But guardianship of her brother? She bit her lip. She'd always feared this day would come.
Amelia stared at the note, a scream welling up from the depths of her little girl heart that had only ever wanted unconditional love. Everything shook. Her legs. The letter. The tickets to Cairo. In one hand she held her future. In the other, her past.
And between lay the present's ugly decision of who to disappoint— her editor, herself, or the man she'd called Father.
"I often worked harder than the common sailors during the day, and devoted my nights to the study of mathematics, the theory of medicine, and those branches of physical science from which a naval adventurer might derive the greatest practical advantage."
Any dream worth pursuing required toil and hardship, but must it also entail the ruination of a perfectly good pair of trousers? Graham Lambert scowled at a gash in the fabric and slight sting on his calf. Pacing in the shadows had seemed like a good idea until he'd snagged against that cursed nail. He ought to have waited in one place. Stood still. Dash it! Must rash behaviour always be his downfall?
He anchored near the lamplight pouring out the window of the Llandoger Trow public house. Neither the steady stream of sailors from the nearby docks nor the actors exiting the Old Vic Theatre captured so much as a bat of his eye. Instead, he focused on a white-haired gentleman in a Paris beau hat who conversed with two other fellows until a gig was brought 'round. Whoever said women were long-winded harpies had clearly never suffered a half-hour parting from three men who'd spent the evening swapping tales inside a tavern.