“La la la,” Emily sang, drowning out his words. “La la la la.”
He stopped and closed the book, his expression even more grim. “Emily, my dear. Who taught you to tell untruths? To flout the authority of your elders? To speak as your guardian is speaking?”
You, Jane thought. Necessity.
But her uncle, apparently, had a different thought. His eyes traveled to Jane.
He didn’t look at her with accusation in his eyes. There wasn’t a cruel bone in his body. His expression was just pathetically, droopingly sad. He sat gingerly next to Emily and patted her shoulder.
“Now, Emily,” he said quietly. “I know you to be a truthful girl. And I know that you feel a great affection for your sister.”
He didn’t know Emily at all. He’d never bothered to know either of them.
“It’s quite natural,” Titus said, as if Jane were not in the room. “But you need to keep in mind that your sister is lacking in moral character.”
Jane refused to react. It never did any good to argue or scream or cry—any response on her part only reinforced his poor opinion of her.
But Emily shook her head. “I don’t like what you’re saying. It’s not true.”
“I understand, I understand,” their uncle said, in his slow, sad voice. “I won’t ask you to hate your sister—that would be unnatural for any girl, let alone one of your frailties.”
Jane could see Emily’s fist clenching in her skirts. They might not have looked like sisters, but looks were deceptive. And Emily was incapable of letting an insult to Jane go by.
Don’t fight it, Emily. Just nod your head and let him maunder on.
“You’re wrong,” Emily said.
“You’re overly emotional.” Titus picked up the offending novel and slipped it into one of his voluminous pockets. “And I think I can identify the culprit. If you need anything to read, dear Emily, there’s material aplenty already in my study. You need only ask.”
Emily stared directly at her uncle. “Material in your study? But it’s all old law books.”
“Very improving,” Titus said.
“Which should I read tonight, then? A Treatise on the Art of Conveyancing sounds so promising, but how could I read that, when The Legal Relations of Infants, Parents, and Child is available?”
Jane made a little motion with her hands. Stop, please stop. But Emily wasn’t done.
“Oh, now I recall,” she said. “I’ve read them all. Because I’m trapped in my room, not allowed to go out in company, not allowed to even read of real people—”
Or invented ones.
Titus stood. “Miss Emily,” he said, “you’re overwrought. You attend church, as any good young woman should. And Mrs. Blickstall accompanies you on walks appropriate to your physical wellbeing every morning.” He frowned at her. “It’s not like you to be so emotional. Was there…an occurrence today?”
“An occurrence?” Emily echoed. “Why, yes. The first thing that occurred was that I woke up.”
Titus frowned. “Dear child. You know I did not mean the word in that sense.”
Emily glared at the man. “Then say what you really mean.”
“Did you have—that is, did you have the misfortune of—of falling victim to—”
Emily set her jaw. “I had a seizure.”
The concern on his face was real. He placed one hand on Emily’s shoulder. “Poor, dear child,” he whispered. “No wonder you are overwrought. You should sleep.”
“But Jane hasn’t told me about her evening yet.”
Titus looked up from Emily to contemplate Jane. Jane wished she could hate him. She wished she could hate his good wishes and his assumptions and his single-minded determination to cure her sister. But he wasn’t a bad man. He was just a tired, lazy one.
He heaved another, horrible sigh. “Emily, your sister…”
Emily patted his hand. “How can I encourage her to do what is right if I am never allowed to speak with her?”
Titus sighed. “Very well. You may speak with your sister a little while longer. But Emily…encourage her to marry. It would be the best thing for all of us.”
He wanted Jane out of his life. It was, Jane supposed, partially her fault. Her choices. It wasn’t surprising he thought her a bad influence on her sister. But there was nothing she could do now to change his mind. Her uncle knew that she wasn’t really her father’s child, and that, that made everything about her unforgivable. She could break her heart trying to change his mind, but she had to keep that safe for Emily.
“I will, Uncle,” Emily promised.
“You are an inspiration to us all, my dear,” Titus said, and with another sad smile, he left the room.
Emily waited until his footsteps had disappeared down the hall before she balled her hands. “I hate him,” she said, standing up and turning back to her bed. “I hate him. I hate him. I hate him.” With every sentence, she drove her fist into her pillow. “I hate his sorrowful face and his wide concerned eyes. I hate him.”
Jane went to her sister, put her arm around her. “I know.”
“At least you get to go out in company,” Emily said. “I’m nineteen, and for God’s sake, he won’t let me go anywhere—for fear that I might suffer from an occurrence if I did. Does he really think that I’m better off languishing in my room like a storybook princess with nothing to read but moral philosophy and legal tracts?”
Jane had long since given up wondering what Titus really thought. He intended to do what was right. A doctor had once told him that her sister’s fits were exacerbated by exercise and excitement, and so Titus had put Emily on a regimen of bland languishment. The fact that Emily was so often confined to her rooms meant that he saw her seizures less often, and so nothing could convince him that this dictum hadn’t worked.
The last thing Titus had wanted was to become the guardian of two girls. Especially when one of them wasn’t his blood relation, and the other suffered from inexplicable fits.
Jane sighed and pulled her sister close. “Fifteen more months,” she said. “Then you’ll be twenty-one and free of him. We can leave him and live off my money, and I promise you, you will have every novel you want. You’ll dance at every dance. Nobody will stop you. Nobody will dare.”
Emily heaved a sigh. “I want to know how Mrs. Larriger escapes Victoria Land.”