Chapter 15

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Langley met us in the courtyard on our arrival. He sat in his wheelchair, his hands folded in his lap. Bollard stood behind him, staring straight ahead. When we strolled up to them, Langley's hands moved from his lap to the wheels as if he would push himself forward, but quickly returned to his lap again. He scrutinized each of us in turn before finally settling on Jack's swollen lip.

"You're back," was all he said. "Tommy told me you were successful in your endeavors."

"Oh Uncle, it was awful!" Sylvia bent down and hugged him. It was awkward with him sitting, and she seemed not to know where to put her arms. Langley was equally ill at ease. He patted her back as if she were a puppy that had just fetched his slippers for the first time.

She wiped the tears from her cheeks then went to move away. He caught her hand and kept her at his side.

"It's cold out here," he said. "Mrs. Moore will bring tea to us in the parlor. Tell me everything there."

He continued to hold Sylvia's hand as Bollard wheeled him inside. He must have been concerned after all and relieved to see us again. The only time I'd seen him outside, or indeed downstairs, was on the night of the fire. Neither his old room nor his new one were on the ground floor. He must have seen us coming up the drive and had Bollard bring both him and the wheelchair down to meet us. My eyes pricked with tears, until I realized that he hadn't been eager to see us again, only his niece and nephew. Or perhaps only Sylvia. Aside from frowning at Jack's cuts and bruises, he'd not paid his nephew much attention.

We sat in the small parlor that we'd been using since the night of the fire. It no longer smelled musty. A low fire warmed it, keeping the chill out of the air I suppose, although I'd never known what a chill really felt like. Some of Sylvia's paintings now decorated the walls and her embroidered cushions sat plump and inviting on the sofa. Tea arrived shortly after us, brought in by Tommy, not Mrs. Moore. It was odd to see him all stiff and formal again. Aside from a quick glance at each of us, he resumed his blank, footman's gaze. I found it most irritating.

"It's good to see you, Tommy," I said, smiling. "Have you suffered any ill effects from the fire?"

"No, Miss Smith."

"I thought we agreed you would call me Hannah now."

He splashed tea over the side of a cup and looked at Langley. "I, uh, don't feel right calling you anything other than what's proper."

"I agree," Sylvia said. She lifted her chin, but it didn't hide the quick glance she shot at Tommy and the slight blush to her cheeks. "Whatever transpired in London should remain there."

"How can you say that?" I said. "The four of us formed a bond at Tate's factory. You can't deny it."

"She'll try her hardest," Jack muttered.

"Circumstances in London were...unique," she said. "Never to be repeated. Besides, just because we all endured a nasty experience together doesn't mean we can allow social mores to lapse. I know you don't fully understand the importance of keeping everyone in their place, Hannah, having lived your entire life in an attic among a total of two people. You'll simply have to trust me. It's important. Isn't that right, Uncle?" She faced her uncle, but her gaze slid between him and Tommy.

The footman was too busy pouring the tea to notice, but he did seem more rigid than usual.

"Social order is everything," Langley agreed. "The opposite is chaos."

Behind him, Bollard's nostrils flared. Tommy left, carrying the tray with him.

"Tell me what happened," Langley said. "Tommy informs me they arrived before you, Jack. Where were you?"

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