Countess Novia was true to her word and as soon as the sun began to set a horse and carriage arrived to collect Adrianna and escort her to the party. As Adrianna descended the stairs in a rich navy blue dress and matching mask with black lace detailing around the edges, she caught sight of a figure hiding in the shadows.
“Hello?” She called into the semi-darkness as she reached the bottom of the stairs. “Who is there?”
“Only me,” her father called back, remaining hidden. “I came to ensure you were off safely.”
“Thank you,” Adrianna replied nervously. “As you can see I am very well and my carriage is here to drive me to Countess Novia’s. You need not worry about me.”
“I will walk you to the carriage all the same,” he insisted. Adrianna couldn’t refuse so allowed her father to walk beside her as they approached the carriage. “I forgot to apologize,” the Duke said as they reached the carriage, “for what happened the other day. I lost my temper and I shouldn’t have hurt you like that.”
“I understand,” Adrianna replied almost inaudibly, unsure how to react to her father’s sudden change in character.
“But you can be so frustrating, Adrianna. Why can’t you accept what I tell you like Vittoria? Why must you always fight me?”
“Because if I didn’t then I wouldn’t be true to myself,” she replied plainly. “Please excuse me or I’ll be late.”
The Duke nodded and helped his daughter up, into the carriage and shut the door behind her.
“I’ll have someone wait until you get back,” he said through the carriage window.
“Thank you,” Adrianna replied before the carriage driver cracked his whip and the horse jolted forward. Adrianna thought on what her father had said as she bounced along in the carriage towards her unknown destination. Why had he apologized? He had made it known that he was in the wrong by apologizing when any other man would have allowed the woman to take the blame. But what did that say about him?
Adrianna thought about it again and again until the carriage slowed to a halt in a part of town she did not know. It wasn’t as far out as her home, but not as central as Countess Novia’s house. Adrianna assumed it was somewhere in between.
She stepped down from the carriage by herself and walked towards the front door. She could hear merry voices coming from inside the building but felt nervous about intruding alone. Nevertheless she lifted the brass knocker on the front door and rapped it hard three times, like she had been taught.
A moment later a footman opened the door and, after learning Adrianna’s name, escorted her inside the building, along the entrance hall and into a small but pleasant drawing room where about a dozen people were already gathered. Adrianna spotted Countess Novia talking animatedly with two gentlemen, but she did not recognise anyone else in the room.
“Lady Adrianna?” An unfamiliar voice said, making Adrianna turn to face the man addressing her.
“I am she,” Adrianna replied, taking in the appearance of the old man with graying hair and a slight stoop who had addressed her.
“I am so glad you could come,” the man said, taking Adrianna’s hand and shaking it far more vigorously than she had expected. “I’m am Eduardo, a good friend of Countess Novia’s. She mentioned that you would like to join our little gathering tonight.”
“She asked me this morning if I should like to attend. It is an honour to be invited into such a close circle.”
“We are always glad to have newcomers, especially if they are just as passionate about our ideas as we are.”
“So you all believe in women’s rights?”
“Most of us do. We have very broad beliefs, but all of them focus on the same thing; widening representation for the people. Women are the most underrepresented people in our society. Giving them a voice seems like the most logical first step.”
“Even the gentlemen?” Adrianna asked, observing the four men who were already in the room.
“Indeed. We all have faith in the same idea.”
“Ah, Adrianna,” Countess Novia exclaimed as she caught the girl’s eye and moved away from her companions. “I’m so glad you came, I was beginning to worry about you. The carriage arrived on time?”
“Yes it did, thank you.”
“Very good. I see you’ve already met our esteemed host, Sir Eduardo.”
“Yes, I have and he has been very friendly. An excellent host,” Adrianna praised, relaxing a little now she was in the company of a familiar face.
“I wouldn’t want you to feel excluded,” he replied. “In fact, I must introduce you to the rest of our circle. I believe we are all here now.”
“Not quite,” Countess Novia corrected. “Remember there is one more to add to our party.”
“Ah yes,” Sir Eduardo said knowingly. “And when shall he be joining us?”
“As soon as I have taken Adrianna to meet him in the library. He insisted on talking to her before the meeting began, although I can’t understand why.”
“Well we’d best get on with it or we’ll be here until tomorrow evening before we’re finished.”
“Then I’ll take her to him now so he can say what he wants to and then we can begin the meeting.”
“Excellent idea,” Eduardo mumbled, nodding and moving away from the two ladies and further into the room.
“What’s going on?” Adrianna asked, all too aware that the Countess Novia and Sir Eduardo had been talking over her head for the past few moments. “Who wants to see me?”
“Don’t worry, it’s nothing to be scared of. He just wanted to speak to you again before you were introduced to the rest of our group.”
“You’ll see,” the Countess said ominously. “Just follow me.”