Ada is walking purposefully around the room, counting as she goes. ‘Forty nine, fifty, fifty one, fifty two.’ Her father appears climbing the spiral staircase from below. She stops by the window.
‘What is it you are doing Ada?’ He asks.
‘Measuring Father.’ Ada continues to step and count until she reaches the staircase. ‘The carpenter at Whitmans Dock told me I should know to measure things against my own body. He took his folding ruler and measured my handspan. Look.’ She stretches her thumb and small finger apart as far as she can and places her hand against the spine of a book on the table nearby. ‘Six inches, just a little less.’ Her father smiles.
‘He measured my tread as well, said I could tell the distance from the boat house to Beacon’s Bell just by walking it. See, my stride is one and a half feet almost exactly, if I stretch just a little.’ She moves past her father and continues to walk around the room tapping her fingers against her thigh at every step until she is back next to the stair rail.
‘It took me forty six steps. He wrote it down with a pencil on an oak beam. forty six multiplied by one and a half is sixty nine feet which is twenty three yards. Or so he said.
‘I asked him how many steps in a mile and he said to come back after lunch so I did and he wrote it down for me. One thousand seven hundred and sixty yards in a mile which is…’
Ada fished about in her pocket for a scrap of paper and showed her father. 1760 yards = 5280 feet which is 3520 steps.
‘But why are you counting your steps in here?’ Ada’s father needed to tend to the lamp but knew not to trust the look in Ada’s eye.
‘Well,’ said Ada reluctantly. ‘If I can walk two thousand six hundred and forty steps, I can walk a mile and if I can walk a mile then maybe I can walk two miles and if I can walk that far then maybe I could walk the five miles to Leymouth to visit my mother.’ She finished in a rush and stared defiantly at the wall behind her father’s head.
‘Ada,’ her father began and then hesitated.
‘Ada, your mother never went to Leymouth.’
‘But I thought…’ Ada was confused. ‘But Mary said… Well, where did she go then?’ She demanded. There were four other towns marked on the turnpike. ‘Did she go to Smithfield?’
Ada’s father began again to climb the stairs, his boots heavy on the iron treads. ‘Your mother went to heaven Ada, she died in childbirth when you were three’
‘But Father!’ Ada starts up the staircase after him forgetting to count.
‘Father, how many steps will that be?’
‘Too many to count Ada’ Her father’s voice came down muffled from the room above. ‘And all of them uphill.’