14. The Sins of Mr Rikkard Ambrose

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"You haven't heard?"

The voice was full of glee and juicy gossip. I was so quickly at the potted plant behind which the group of gossiping ladies where hiding that I saw who had spoken. It was the Duchess of Brandon. I should have been able to guess from the tone.

Lady Allen, obviously the one who had asked the question, flushed a little. "From what I've heard since I've arrived in town, he's rumoured to be one of the richest men in London," She said defensively.

"One of the richest?" The duchess laughed. The sound almost make me want to go away again, or at least stuff my ears while it lasted. "My dear, from what my sources tell me, he is the richest. His wealth is unparalleled. There is only one other man who can hold a candle to him."

Lady Allen's mouth formed a little 'O', and her eyes went wide.

And I had to admit to my shame: for once in my life I felt the same as Lady Allen and the Duchess of Brandon. I was awed, and a cold shiver ran down my back. The more I heard about Mr Ambrose, the more rich and powerful he seemed to become. Where the hell did all this wealth come from? I couldn't believe he was simply the heir of some large estate. Why would he have that monumental building in the city, if his wealth came from his inheritance? And what had all those people been doing there, hurrying about, carrying papers?

The third member of the little discussion group behind the potted plant seemed to harbour similar questions.

"Yes, yes." I knew that voice. Peeking through the foliage, I saw Lady Metcalf wave her fan. "But does anybody know where his wealth comes from? I must say, I have my suspicions that it's not honest money, and that he is no gentleman. I have repeatedly invited him to balls and the theatre, and never once has he accepted my invitation. He hasn't even replied! The nerve of him! I say there must be something fishy about him, there is no other way to explain such dastardly behaviour."

For some reasons those words made a grin appear on my face. Suddenly, I liked my employer a little bit better. Just a little bit.

"Well..." the Duchess said in that drawn-out tone that said "I have a shocking piece of information and I am willing to share, but you must badger me first since I cannot very well appear like a gossip."

"Yes?" Lady Metcalf leaned closer, eagerly. "You know something, Duchess?"

Carefully, I stepped even closer to the potted plant, praying they would not notice me. The Duchess was a treasure-trove of gossip, and for once I was actually interested in what she had to say. Very much so.

"I really can't," she protested. "It is only a rumour, and I would never want to slander anybody."

Amazing how people could lie without their face twitching.

"We won't tell," Lady Metcalf assured her.

"Yes," Lady Allen concurred. "You know us. We don't gossip."

Really, really amazing.

"Well... all right, if you promise not to repeat anything I say."

"We promise," Lady Metcalf nodded eagerly.

"It is only a rumour, mind you, and I do not have any proof." The duchess gloried in the eager anticipation of her friends.

"Does he have anything to do with the Ambroses in the North?" Lady Metcalf tried to guess. "A very good family, I think."

"Dear Lord no, my dear. The Northern Ambroses? The Earl's family? They may have recovered from their financial difficulties, but I assure you, they do not have the kind of money this Mr Ambrose has."

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