Florence could hardly believe her own boldness. Walking alone with a young man she hardly knew? And to follow a mysterious stranger at that! But at the same time, it was positively thrilling, investigating a mystery. She could almost imagine she was an officer of Scotland Yard trailing a suspect. Except, Miss Marchbanks wasn’t much of a suspect, her only crime being her resemblance to the dead.
“So, if you don’t dream of being London’s foremost typist, what do you dream of being?” Tom was eyeing Florence with a cheeky grin. “A rich wife? Embroidering or playing the pianoforte while your Duke husband neglects you for the races?”
“Certainly not! While I’m sure I wouldn’t mind a closet full of dresses and a jewelry box full of diamonds, I think I would be far too bored as a rich housewife!”
Tom laughed. “Somehow, I was hoping you would say that.”
Florence’s heart fluttered. “Hoping?”
Tom flushed. “That is to say, a bright young woman should never resign herself to a life of tedium.”
“That’s easy for you to say! You’re a man. You have some choice. A woman may choose to marry, or to take one of only a few meager jobs considered suitable to our delicacy.”
“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” Tom said.
“Men often don’t,” Florence said gently. Even her own father, as dear as he was to her, didn’t seem to understand.
“If you could do anything, what would you do?”
“I’d be an officer in Scotland Yard.” Florence prepared herself for the potential reactions to her confession. Typically, she was met with a chuckle, sometimes with a chiding, Always, she was reminded of the danger, the exposure to unsuitable places and people.
To Florence’s surprise, Tom merely shrugged. “Well, you couldn’t beat that for adventure I suppose, except perhaps sailing to Africa to tame lions.”
“I’m not sure,” Florence replied. “A lion couldn’t have much on a typical London criminal!”
Tom laughed. “I’ll admit to that. I’ve met a fair few of London’s criminals and many of their table manners are not up to scratch!”
“Do you often sup with convicts?” Florence couldn’t decide if this possibility was fascinating or terrifying.
“Not much anymore,” Tom admitted. “My mother ran a boarding house when I was a boy. Not all the roomers were respectable folk.”
“I’m sure you met the most fascinating people, though!”
Tom nodded. “That’s true. But I dare say, I’ve already met at least one fascinating person while minding Mr. Winthrop’s bookshop, and so far she hasn’t shown any criminal tendencies. I have yet to witness her table manners, though!” Was it just Florence’s imagination, or had he winked while saying that?
Florence felt herself blush. Surely, he couldn’t mean her! She hardly imagined herself fascinating. Morbid, perhaps. Hotheaded. What was the term Miss Peyton had used to describe her in grade school? Incorrigibly unconventional and deliberately unmarriageable, whatever that was supposed to mean. But never fascinating.
Before Florence could ask what Tom meant, he pulled the cart to a stop and gestured at the building in front of them. It was a neat brick building with immaculately scrubbed windows and a trim painted a crisp white. A sign proclaimed it to be the surgery of a Dr. Morton.
Tom maneuvered the cart to the entrance and knocked. He and Florence were greeted by a young woman who appeared to be a chambermaid. Florence noticed the maid’s downy blonde hair and wide blue eyes, and, to her surprise felt a pang of something that could be jealousy. Florence didn’t usually look at other young women enviously, but there was something about the way this girl blinked up at Tom that made Florence feel suddenly possessive. Foolishly, she reminded herself, as Tom was not hers to possess! She had only just met him the day before, and for all she knew, he could already be engaged, or worse, he could be a raving madman or a secret fop. She really hardy knew him at all, and any silly miss could blink at him as much as she wanted!
“We’ve a delivery for Dr. Morton,” Tom told the girl. “That’s not you, is it?”
The maid 1aughed, producing a sound like a wild animal with its foot caught in a trap. Florence scowled. There was no way that joke deserved so much mirth.
“Cor, who sent something that enormous?”
“These are from the doctor’s fiancée,” Tom answered. “An entire stack of encyclopedias.”
“Books!” the girl exclaimed. “How dreadfully unromantic!”
Florence huffed. “I think a book is very romantic gift. If I had a fiancé who sent me books I would be thrilled!”
“Even encyclopedias?” Tom asked, his eyebrow raised.
“I haven’t the faintest idea what sort of reading Dr. Morton prefers. This could be perfectly romantic to him!”
“I say, the doctor was never much for romance before he met this Miss Marchbanks,” the maid told them. “And now, he spends his hours exchanging love letters!” She pulled a thick envelope from the pocket in her apron. “This is one of Miss Marchbanks’s responses, fresh from the post office. I wouldn’t be surprised if she dabs her perfume on them before she sends them!”
Florence was struck by an idea. “You don’t say!” She tried to smile, but the expression was more like a chimpanzee baring his teeth at the London Zoo. “Is it at least a nice perfume?”
The girl shrugged.
“Here, give me a sniff,” Florence insisted, snatching the envelope from the maid’s hand. She held the envelope to her nose and inhaled. There was a faintly floral aroma, but she hardly noticed it. What she was after was something else entirely. And there it was, almost too easily, the clue she was looking for:
Miss Mary Marchbanks
No. 8 Chesham St.