Melinda’s voice was raspy. “You are…Mister Burgess, are you not?”
The former greenhouse was a warren of books and genteel tintypes, with a narrow path winding between them. Burgess could hear the squeaking of Melinda’s chair nearby, but could not immediately see a way to reach it.
“Yes, that’s right,” he said. “Your uncle spoke to you of me?
“Oh, no.” More rusty squealing as Melinda reoriented herself, sight unseen, to seek out Burgess amid the chaos. “Uncle is…terribly protective. I’m sure you noticed.”
Burgess rubbed the spot on the small of his back where Uncle Forrestal’s gun had been pressed. “I did indeed. But I am here because of your father.”
The squeaking, and the rasping, were closer now. “Uncle has told me of Father. I remember…little of him, but I am sure that he had my interests at heart when he left. Mother’s death at my birth was, I am told, quite the blow.”
Burgess snorted softly. The man the constabulary had fished out of the Thames had clearly only had his own at heart, judging from the betting slips in his pockets. “Well, Miss Forrestal, your father was, if nothing else, a registered barrister and the owner of not inconsiderable assets. If you are of age and of sound mind and body, you stand to inherit all of his holdings in lieu of your uncle, the only other next of kin.”
“I am quite sound of mind, thank you, Mr. Burgess,” croaked Melinda. She turned a corner into Burgess’s field of view, covered in a shawl, her twisted and thin legs beneath a blanket clearly unable to support her weight. “As for sound of body, well…I am told that, while she was in the early stages of bearing me, Mother was attacked and nearly killed by a flock of ravens.”
She cast back the hood, and Burgess recoiled in horror from the visage, far more birdlike than he had expected. Melinda’s beak clicked as she continued: “And, as those things do, it has…left its mark on me.”