18. The Peril of Flowers

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I went home to lunch, but since I didn't have the wherewithal to cope with my aunt's incessant questions about Lieutenant Elllingham, I made my disappearance as soon as possible. I decided to go the King's Library to look a few things up. Maybe I'd find an interesting book on China, or a Colonial adventure story, or...

All right, I admit it. I was going to look up Rikkard Ambrose. So what? Was it a crime that I wanted to find out a bit more about the man I worked for? It was only natural that I would like to discover a few more things about him. It might help me avoid such blunders as the one with the charity requests. Maybe I'd discover that he kept a poodle, or was allergic to strawberries, or some other interesting fact.

Maybe I'd even find out whether he was, as I was beginning to suspect, more than a simple citizen. Books and newspapers could hold all sorts of interesting information.

Fortunately, unlike riding, shooting and pretty much anything else that I thought might be interesting to do in life, reading was not solely the domain of men. Nobody gave me a second glance as I walked along the gallery of the King's Library, between the mile-high shelves and imposing busts of historical personalities.

In passing, I sent up a glare at the busts. "Of course you're all men," I muttered, gesturing up at them threateningly. "It didn't occur to anyone to put a bust of Queen Elisabeth or Mary Astell up there, did it? Darn chauvinist sculptors!"

An elderly gentleman passing in the opposite direction stopped when he saw me shaking my fist at the statues, and blinked as if he wasn't sure he was seeing right. I quickly hurried on to the newspaper section.

Shortly afterwards, I stood in front of a row of shelves, examining the enormous books which contained the Times of the last few decades. Where to start? From the dates on the file boxes I knew his history went back quite some time. So I pretty randomly picked one of the massive volumes. With effort, I managed to get it down from the shelf and transported it to a table next to a bust of Julius Caesar.

"Hello there, fellow," I said, petting Caesar on his head. "Let's see what we have on Mr Ambrose, shall we?"

*~*~**~*~*

Three hours and seven volumes later, I gave up.

He was everywhere: always on the edge of things, never quite part of society yet always in the middle because all of society seemed to orientate himself around him. Mr Ambrose had been spotted near the races – but did he bet on a horse? No! Mr Ambrose had been seen talking with business partners outside the theatre. But did he go in? Of course not! Once he had been spotted in the Opera, but had left before the performance ended.

What did he do in his free time?

Where was his family?

What nefarious activities had he engaged in to amass his enormous fortune?

There were no articles about his past, not even the indication that at some point he might have given an interview. Nowhere in the dozens of papers I leaved through did I find a single answer to my questions. But then again – why was I so anxious to find out? What business of mine was it how he had gotten his money? Why did I so desperately want to know?

Deep down I knew why. With a shiver I remembered his words, almost a threat, on that day he had sat opposite me in his office, his dark eyes burning holes into my head:

I need a man. A man, Miss Linton. Not a girl who will run off screaming at the things she will see where my business takes me.

By that, I was sure, he had meant more than seeing the inside of file boxes.

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