Settling into the chair opposite him, Hope took in her father’s countenance carefully. He looked tired and stressed, though it was apparent he was trying to cover his concerns with a smile and good humor.
“What may I do for you, my gel?”
“Well,” Hope started slowly, “I was wondering if you had heard anything about the stock market scam that was perpetrated just the other day?”
A look of panic brightened her father’s eyes for just an instant and then it was gone, but it was enough to send a pit of dread directly to Hope’s stomach.
“Stock market scam?” Mr. Stuckeley echoed. “Yes, yes, I do believe I read something about it in the papers, did I not?”
Hope fervently hoped that was the only way her father knew of the crime. “It was covered in the paper a little, yes. But I have been doing my own investigation and…”
“What! You have been doing what?” Mr. Stuckeley leaned forward ardently. “You mustn’t get yourself involved, Hope. I know you have an interest and an aptitude for the market, but you are just a girl. This is no business for you.”
“But Father! I was suspicious of the stock fluctuations before anything even happened. How could I not pursue the cause after such a flagrant abuse of the people, of the government? Criminals disguised as French soldiers, hiring hacks, printing up flyers…an imposter posing as an officer of the armed forces! It’s shameful.”
Obviously struck by the boldness of his daughter’s words—so forceful, so adamant, so unlike her—Mr. Stuckeley grabbed Hope by the shoulders and shook her. “What has gotten into you? You must stop this. These are dangerous men you are dealing with. They would not hesitate to—”
Pale and more than a little frightened, Hope whispered hoarsely, “Hesitate to what, Father? Who are these men and how do you know they are dangerous?”
Releasing Hope gently, Mr. Stuckeley sat back in his chair and ran his hands over his face. Hope could see that he was shaking. Her fears of his being guilty were mounting by the second.
“Hope, my dear,” her father began wearily, “it is only logical to assume these men are dangerous. This act—this crime—is not something that gentle, ah, kind-hearted men do. I do not need to, er, know the men in question to believe this to be true.”
Searching her father’s face for any sign of guilt or deception, Hope only saw resignation and exhaustion. Perhaps it was as he said, just a logical assumption. She desperately wanted to believe that, but she had to be sure.
“So you know nothing else of this misdeed, Father, than what you read in the papers and what you have inferred of the type of men involved?”
“Nothing else, daughter. Nothing else at all.”
“Very well, then. I will leave you to your drink.”
As Hope stood to leave, not feeling particularly reassured by their conversation, her father reached out to grab her hand. She turned back to look at him.
Holding her hand gently in his, Mr. Stuckeley said, “Please promise me that you will stop all this nonsense, Hope. I need to know that you are safe and sound. When I am, er, not here, I need to know I can count on you to be prudent and cautious…and out of harm’s way.”
“Not here? Wherever would you be, if not here?”
“Here! Of course I will always be here,” Mr. Stuckeley hastily amended, “but I am away for business often or out at the club or what have you and I do not want to have to worry about you constantly while I am away—ah—out of the house.”
“I see,” Hope replied, hugely afraid that she did, indeed, see. “Well then, Father, I promise. I promise I will stop any further ‘nonsense.’”
The relief Mr. Stuckeley felt at her words was evident on his face and in his posture. “Excellent, excellent! There is my good and sensible girl.”